Skip to main content

Full text of "Against the wind"

See other formats

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 






Short Stories 


the brides of Solomon and Other Stories 
For Children 









Little, Brown and Company 

An Atlantic Monthly Press Book 











Published simultaneously in Canada 
by Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited 








When in fiction I present my hero I try to define 
as soon as possible his economic background. 
For me, at least, a man fails to achieve complete 
reality until I know how he has earned his living. 'What 
does it eat?' is the first question that the interested observer 
of any animal must ask. 

For understanding of the human animal to ask by what 
work it eats is, except to the epicure, more revealing. I 
suspect that in future generations, if indeed they take for 
granted their rights to food and employment, the answer 
may be unimportant; but, in my own, wars and their 
financial consequences have too often made the filling of 
the belly as well as the filling of the mind an uncertain and 
picaresque adventure. 

I belong to the transitional order between the mild and 
herbivorous capitalist and that anxious carnivore, the clerk 
with a family. My great-grandfather had the talent for 
earning more than he spent. My grandfather bought with 
his considerable inheritance the estate of Bilney in Norfolk 
and doubtfully enjoyed the life of a country squire until he 
attempted, very reasonably, to recover on the stock 
exchange what he had lost in the disastrous agricultural 



years at the end of the eighteen-seventies. Thus the only 
result of this fly-by-night capital was to raise the House- 
holds from small East Anglian farmers into the professional 
class. My father became one of H.M. Inspectors of Schools 
and then Secretary of Education for Gloucestershire ; my 
uncle, an infantry officer. For me, too, the most probable 
employer was the State, and I surmise that I might have 
done very well in the Consular Service provided I escaped 
severe censure in my early twenties for some spectacular 
orgy, harmless in itself but of quite unconsular proportions. 

I was set firmly upon the conventional ladder. A pre- 
paratory school which I loved and a public school which I 
detested led on to Oxford; and a shallow facility for 
examinations enabled me to ease my father's life by 
scholarships. I did not ease my own. I was always expected 
to keep up the academic proprieties outside the examina- 
tion hall — an absurd demand when all I had really learned 
was to present the few facts I knew with taste, and surround 
them with the mystery of learning. 

Yet some of my examiners were great men, not easily 
impressed by sleek writing, and it may have been that a 
genuine respect for scholarship shone through my pre- 
tences. I myself was never a scholar — using the word in its 
untranslatable, donnish sense — but I did at least know 
how to be one. That alone was enough to mark me as a 
possible initiate of the mysteries, and to this day my mind 
remains questioning rather than intellectual. I have too 
little patience with the firmly-instructed of the modern 

But this is a mere introduction to my story; and indeed 
I do not know whether the random collision which knocked 
my nucleus into space was due to academic distinction or 
to my unperturbed ability to miss driven pheasants. There- 
after, instead of bearing my strains and stresses in a solid, 
I flew off upon the glittering path of instability. 


In 1922 a good degree did not enable a man to choose 
among industrial or government posts. The soldiers, three 
or four years older than I but completing their interrupted 
education at the same time, very rightly had first pick. 
There was also a depression. If I had had any definite 
ambition, I suppose I might have put myself in the way of 
fulfilling it; but I had none — not even an impractical and 
romantic idea of what I wanted to do. I was eager only to 
have done with education. 

My development was freakishly late. To me money was 
something which happened or did not, and could no more 
be influenced than the weather. The usefulness of friends, 
clubs and connections simply did not occur to me, nor 
could I have told a prospective employer a single sane 
reason why he should pay me a salary. Among my close 
friends, however, was Ivor Barry. What we had in 
common was, I think, an almost oriental dislike of 
any intellectual, athletic, political or social activities. We 
basked in that Nirvana which was Magdalen and were 
very content. That his courteous father was Managing 
Director of the Ottoman Bank I knew, but it meant 
nothing to me. I treated a power in the post-war world 
with as much nonchalance as if he had been the vicar of 
his village of Nettlebed. 

They were his pheasants which I missed. I cannot 
imagine what he saw in me; he must have perceived my 
gaucherie and worldly innocence ; but those qualities are 
often accompanied by integrity. Perhaps he hoped that 
time would wear away the one, and be powerless against 
the other. 

In November 1922 Barry offered me £400 a year to go 
out to Bucharest and learn to be a banker. I accepted with 
joy and excitement, knowing nothing more of banks than 
that they were institutions upon which one drew a cheque 
hoping that it would be paid. I certainly did not appreciate 


that the object of a bank was to make money for its share- 
holders — for I can remember how that simple fact burst 
upon me months later with the all- clarifying light of a 
revelation. As nearly as I can recapture the formless image 
in my mind, I thought a bank was in the nature of a public 
utility and that my duties would approximate to — as I 
should now put it — those of a Third Secretary in the 
Commercial Attache's office. 

The Ottoman Bank was a Franco-British consortium 
which had the dignified flavour of the City at its Victorian 
greatest, and of Second Empire Paris at its most enter- 
prising. Between the western frontiers of the Balkans and 
the eastern of Persia it upheld the respectability of money 
among the rapacious traders of the Levant — a mission as 
eccentric and deserving as to raise the standard of 
cookery among cannibals; but it paid. The Greek, the 
Baghdad Jew, the Armenian and the Pasha, having made 
their money, did not greatly desire to entrust its safe- 
keeping to each other. 

Whenever the Ottoman Empire gave painful birth to a 
Balkan State or, after 191 8, to Arab States, the Ottoman 
Bank threw off a subsidiary to act as financial nanny. 
These, if run from London rather than Paris, had at least 
one British manager. Interesting men they were, but about 
themselves uncommunicative. They had acquired their 
wisdom and their languages by hard experience. They 
were not always the type to decorate as well as manage the 
head offices in London. 

Barry's policy was to collect a few future general 
managers from the universities and then put them through 
the mill abroad. It did not work for him, nor for the allied 
Anglo-Austrian Bank which tried the same plan at the 
same time. The reason was eventually obvious. The local 
managers had not the slightest interest in turning their 
banks into business academies for young gentlemen, who 


soon drifted away. However golden the future, the bore- 
dom and frustration of the present were unbearable. 

I crossed Europe by the Orient Express a few weeks 
before my twenty-second birthday. I had never before 
been abroad, and romanticism ran wild during those four 
days in the train. It had reality, for, though I did not know 
it, I was travelling in the fourth dimension and bound for 
the nineteenth century. I stepped off the express into a 
country where Society still lived exactly as in the pages of 
de Maupassant, where the peasant still dressed, thought 
and worked in that timeless stability which ended in 
England with the Industrial Revolution and was des- 
troyed in eastern Europe far more by elementary educa- 
tion, the cinema and the automobile than by Communism. 

The Bank of Roumania, that subsidiary of the great 
Ottoman to which I had been condemned, worked its 
clerks and managers from nine to twelve-thirty and three 
to six. Saturday was a half day — if that be a fair description 
of five hours followed by an exhausted lunch about half- 
past two. A long week-end was rare, for we did not close 
on Saturday if a national holiday fell on a Friday. The 
only hope was a Saint's Day on Monday. 

The manager had one brilliant apprentice on his hands 
already; he was not going to be bothered with the training 
of another. He buried me in the Correspondence Depart- 
ment as an extra clerk, and there for four years I remained. 
He had the excuse that in the Correspondence you learned 
more of banking than in any other department, which was 
possibly true; on the other hand you saw nothing whatever 
of accounts, of discount, of arbitrage or of stocks and shares ; 
and you never, except by accident, met a customer. I 
learned to type with two fingers and the various ways in 
which money can be transferred from hither to yon and 
what a documentary credit was. I cannot think of any- 
thing else. My position was made clear from the start when 


I was refused a key to the managerial lavatory. For the 
staff of about a hundred there were two others. That they 
worked at all was due not to water but to our resplendently 
uniformed porter and his staff of office. 

The English manager falls headlong into the class of de 
mortuis nil nisi bonum. But in spite of detesting me he was in 
his own house pleasant, generous and hospitable. The 
Roumanian Christian manager was of immense distinction 
and had a long, silky, grey beard which enabled him to 
talk to politicians on equal terms and would have graced 
any chamberlain at the courts of St Petersburg or Vienna. 
The Roumanian Jewish manager was the most important 
of all, since half the customers and nine-tenths of the staff 
were Jews. He was a cordial old pawnbroker in manner, 
appearance and thought, and if the bank ever made more 
than its hum-drum monthly profit I suspect that he was 

Among the clerks and customers there must have been 
characters of fascinating richness, but they passed through 
my life ten years too early. I had been sent out with prohi- 
bitions ringing in my ears. I was not to be too familiar with 
the local staff. I was not to become involved with local 
merchants. And I was not to marry a Roumanian. That 
advice was sound in so far as a young man should be 
discouraged from marrying anyone at all in his early 
twenties, but unjust. Roumanian women were of astonish- 
ing loveliness and courage, with a true appreciation of the 
joys of food and drink. Their attitude to marital fidelity — 
from their husbands they expected none — was perhaps 
light-hearted, for the Greek Orthodox Church, though as 
proud and ancient as the Catholic, had a reasonable atti- 
tude to divorce. But they did not hurry to take advantage 
of it. Their merry lapses were more civilised than beauty's 
solemn progress from marriage, by way of the psychiatrist's 
consulting-room, to marriage. 


For all there was to see of high finance, I might as well 
have been employed by any provincial bank in England. 
The Bank of Roumania was not the national bank, and the 
Franco-British capital behind it had little influence on the 
post-war policies of the country. I should not, of course, 
have known in my first year or two whether it did or not, 
but later on I do not think I could have wholly missed any 
major movement, however discreet. The fact is that the 
bank confined itself to the most conservative operations, 
feeling its way through the devastating inflation which was 
then a new phenomenon to the practical banker in Europe. 

Bolder finance, when there was any, our London office 
undertook; and the General Manager was sued by his 
own bank — long after my time — for exceeding his powers 
in granting political overdrafts. He suffered from too 
swift a rise, if I read him rightly, and too vaulting an 
ambition to leave his mark upon the history of eastern 
Europe; and I would not blame vanity any more than his 
devotion to a charming French wife and two pretty 
daughters. I liked him for his tentative flamboyance, for 
his determination to enjoy the luxuries of life and to learn 
how to enjoy them. It was a pity, and perhaps unmerited, 
that his name should be recorded only in the Law 

That a bank clerk without any private income should 
be quite as accustomed to luxury as his General Manager 
was unnatural and due entirely to inflation. The Rou- 
manian leu had fallen from 25 to 700 to the pound, and 
prices had not caught up. My four hundred a year, from 
which neither England nor Roumania collected any notice- 
able income tax, put me into the class of some gilded youth 
from P. G. Wodehouse. Before I left, my salary had gone 
up to seven hundred, and the exchange rate had gone 
down to 1,200 lei to the pound. I can never be so rich 
again. The standard of living which I then enjoyed only 


exists today in France, and those who can both afford it 
and appreciate it are few. 

Had I come under the influence of some predicted pillar 
of Church or State — an unlikely event, since both at school 
and at Oxford I was too aimless to appreciate columnar 
virtues in my contemporaries — I might at least have taken 
Roumania gradually. As it was, I surrendered to a most 
vivacious influence. He had arrived in the Bank of 
Roumania a year before me on a similar but superior 
ticket. His full title was Confidential Secretary to the 
Management. Unlike myself, he was free of the secret files 
and the managerial privy. He had spent the four years of 
the war interned in Ruhleben, and had come out with a 
desire for living so passionate that Cambridge, London 
and now Bucharest trailed behind his ability to extract 
amusement from them. 

It was he who met me on my arrival. By the end of the 
day he had made sure that I knew about half the foreign 
colony, that I was wild with excitement for the future 
flesh-pots and that I was not the least danger to him. His 
generosity of temperament, his tall, dark distinction were 
more fitted to some exiled Russian prince than to a 
formal British banker, and could have disconcerted a 
board of directors less cosmopolitan than ours. He 
wondered if I had been sent out as a possible replacement. 
It must have been a comfort to him to discover that my 
business age was about twelve and that — since he had to 
put up with me in working hours — my ideas of what 
constituted amusement were, though still tentative, his 

He encouraged me to be a hedonist, for whom good 
taste should be the only moral standard. He was four years 
older than I in age and twenty in experience, a brilliant 
linguist with a brain magnificently equipped for art or 
letters or finance. I owe to him the beginnings of my social 


education — I was sadly lacking in any of the graces — and 
the immediate and lasting destruction of my public-school 
prejudice against speaking foreign languages well. I also 
owed to him a precocious worldly wisdom, for though he 
approved my self-indulgent explorations he was careful 
that I should know the motives of all concerned, from my 
own to those of a cabaret porter or a politician with a 
pretty wife. 

Thus he was far from a corrupter of youth. I was too 
apt a pupil. And pleasure tended to be all for the body 
since there was none for the spirit. My work could have 
been done as well by any bright secondary school boy, and 
very seldom was there time for my favourite and most 
innocent recreation, which was — and is — to do nothing in 
particular in open country. Tennis and golf had little to 
offer, for I have never found any sort of fulfilment or 
relaxation in propelling a ball more accurately than my 
companion. Even the horse, which I might then have 
mastered, was no mount for one who dreamed that he was 
riding into the ground the very leopards of Dionysus. 

For the equivalent of half a crown — about the price that 
a young bank clerk should pay for his lunch and dinner — 
I could do myself as well as any man in Europe. The best 
restaurants of Bucharest were all ambitious ; two, Capsa and 
Cina, superbly succeeded. They had collected recipes from 
the three Empires, then but four years in the grave, which 
surrounded Roumania and had refined them by French 
craftsmanship. Their explorations even pierced the un- 
profitable mist of Atlantic islands. Among the outlandish 
Russian and Turkish names, which lit the French of 
Gapsa's menu like dream cities in a sonnet of Baudelaire, 
appeared Irish Stew. I remember it was the best I ever ate, 
while forgetting how in the world the three strange 
syllables were pronounced. 

For a pound I could have dinner for two in a private 


room of gold and cream and crimson, somewhat shabby 
from war and German occupation, but preserving that 
luxurious air of late- Victorian discretion which more 
properly belonged to my father's generation than to mine. 
In one of those musical-comedy rooms I first discovered 
that the French with which I had been tortured at school 
could actually be used as a method of communication 
between two human beings. Thereafter I was ready to 
investigate the possibilities of my even more rudimentary 
German. Roumanian I never mastered till sixteen years 
later — a devastating proof of the futility of my life. I mixed 
only in society which spoke English or international French 
or somewhat yiddish German. The bank gave me no 
opportunity to identify myself with the country. 

Among those companions whom I entertained in a style 
to which they were more accustomed than I there ought to 
have been one to speak nothing but Roumanian and to teach 
me at least the musical endearments. But I could not even 
handle my own amorality. Ever since schooldays I had 
always thought myself in love with some delicious child, 
treating her with comparative and poetical respect while 
pursuing at large the life of an anxious tom-cat. Not even in 
Bucharest was I able to combine my drawing-room and my 
back-street tastes. 

I well remember, at the age of about seven, falling 
silently on my knees at a children's fancy-dress party 
before a dainty Titania in a pink tou-tou. There is the key 
to what I was : impulsive, extremely sensitive to feminine 
beauty and over-fastidious. And in Roumania such a tem- 
perament was nothing but an expensive nuisance. I was 
too conventional — a mingling of chivalry with caution — 
to discover whether any of the provocative young society 
beauties shared my enthusiasms, too aesthetically minded 
not to bother with elegance at all, too hare-brained to pay 
discreetly the rent of some unattached Roumanian who 


might well have been as sensible as she was lovely. So in 
that half-world of cabarets and Russian refugees, where 
remained some slight illusion of seduction, I tended to pass 
from flower to flower; but at least flowers they were. 

For one mercy to my youth I shall be ever grateful to 
Roumania. Had so eager a young fool been hurled into a 
life of hedonism where wine was neither the normal fashion 
of his friends nor within easy reach of his pocket, he might 
have taken to swilling dollops of gin and whisky with 
the abandon of a serious drinker. As it was, I adopted the 
habits of the country and released the civilised European 
who lies, half a litre below the surface, in the average 
introverted Englishman; if, with the second half-litre 
and the brandies, I released a noisier European, his 
behaviour was generally more a matter for laughter than 

I returned to England on a month's leave in December 
1923. That is as good a time as any to take stock. The 
bankers in London said that I had become more mature. I 
privately ridiculed their opinion, and ascribed it to the fact 
that I was now dressing darkly like a respectable business- 
man. However, they were obviously right since I should 
never have dared, a year earlier, to suspect them of shallow 

At any rate, I was now ready to begin the advance along 
the axis expected of me. Though I had still no sense of 
personal discipline, the wild preliminary gallop on the 
sensual animal had tired him into a more pleasurable trot. 
I was also on the edge of realising that my world was 
bounded by the Black Sea, not the Channel. I was still 
years away from the ability to talk — assuming we had a 
common language — as effortlessly to a foreigner as to an 
Englishman, but I no longer measured him or his way of 
living by their resemblance to the familiar. Like so much 
in my life, this tentative cosmopolitanism arrived by way 


of my belly rather than my brain. Homesick though I was 
for my own country, I could not help observing that I 
should need a very unlikely salary in London to enable me 
to keep up my standard of living — a sordid foundation for 
fraternal sympathy, yet more firmly to be built on than the 
vaguer liberalisms of the professed internationalist. 

I returned to Bucharest more willingly than I expected. 
Somewhere in January Switzerland — it might have been 
Buchs — the Arlberg Express stopped between two for- 
midable walls of ice through which tunnels had been cut 
to give access to the station. I got out to stretch my legs 
and have a drink. While I was thus arcticly engaged, the 
unseen train started. I heard it and, with the ears of the 
spirit, the sceptical remarks of the manager when I was 
not back at my post on the appointed day. I foresaw my 
baggage and passport lost for ever. By the time I had raced 
down the platform and through the nearest hole, the tail of 
the train was fifty yards away and gathering speed. It 
skidded on ice, and I was able, just, to grab the rail 
and step of the luggage van, where I remained shiver- 
ing through tunnels until the train reached Austria and 
stopped. My body, though I tried it hard, was resistant, 
and would do anything that I could reasonably ask of it 
except play games. 

My fellow apprentice was now married, and battling to 
reduce himself to a more Kensingtonian daintiness of living. 
His favourite fiction that nothing but the best was good 
enough for him looked a little more like snobbery, a little 
less like ambition to distil the essences of the moon. Hero 
worship was the thinner for that, and friendship the 
stronger. He was unendingly kind to me, lending me 
comfort or money whenever I badly needed either. In 
reckoning his sins no seraphic manager could ever refuse 
him an overdraft, for he was always ready to pay in to his 
account that tremendous credit, tolerance. Had I landed 


myself in a really scandalous mess, which only by the 
grace of God I never did, it would have been he who 
extracted me and kept silent. 

I was now coming under the influence of much older 
men, who were all capable of enjoying a riotous night as 
much as I, and did not offer it the compliments either of 
addiction or of remorse. French, Belgians, British and 
Austrians, many of them had made their career in Russian 
oil, so that the emotions and vitalities of the Tsarist 
Empire became familiar to me from the talk of my own 
sex as well as that of those delicious and melancholy 
women who migrated to Bucharest when the British Army 
of Occupation left Istanbul. 

There was the Belgian Minister who told me, apropos 
of I know not what Byronic extravagance, to go away and 
read Anatole France — for whom my affection has never 
varied, though now I consider him less a teacher of how to 
think than of what to laugh at. He, too, it was — the 
Belgian Minister, I mean — who made a most profound 
remark which I myself have repeated to young aspiring 
cosmopolitans. Intending to visit Paris, which I had never 
seen, on one of my leaves, I asked him where to stay and 
where to eat. He replied that to me, in the pattern of my 
life, Paris was bound to become a second home, that I had 
no need to visit it and should go to some town which I was 
unlikely ever to see again. 

A useful antidote was Lionel Ludlow, who had fought 
in the Matabele Rebellion, known Rhodes and passed 
from gold-mining in South Africa to Roumanian oil. Like 
any good Empire Builder, he placed for me the life of 
dinners and card-leaving in its true proportions. Above all 
was Fred Thompson who descended upon us from Price, 
Waterhouse in Paris, often with a considerable team of 
accountants, to audit oil companies and finally opened an 
office in Bucharest. He was something less than ten years 


older than myself — a man with a genius for friendship, so 
loving all Europeans and Americans who honestly pre- 
sented themselves to him that his only protection was 
irony. From him I would take rebuke, advice and ridicule 
— and still happily invite them, for he alone of them all 
remains an intimate friend. 

What they saw in me, those kindly watchers over my 
youth, I can only imagine by observing those qualities 
which now attract me in men thirty years younger than 
myself. I was so eager to learn anything of life and of 
peoples which could be taught me, so uninhibitedly ready 
to enjoy myself. I must often have been affected or a bore 
or gauche, but I was never uninterested. Those who had 
daughters considered me eligible, but no doubt shook their 
heads over a too Latin irresponsibility. They underrated 
me. My irresponsibility may have had a surface familiar 
to Continental fathers, but it was Anglo-Saxon in its 

During the four years which I passed as a modest bank 
clerk in working hours, and in my free time as a young man 
of some fashion, there was little interaction between myself 
and my Roumanian environment. I remained a mere 
tourist. By that I mean a visitor who observes, but feels no 
close emotional intimacy with the observed. 

A man may understand, intellectually, the history and 
culture of an alien land, its continuity with his own and its 
branchings-off ; he may admire its arts, its architecture and 
its food and drink; seduced by climate or beauty of land- 
scape he may even be prepared to spend all his idleness 
upon the terraces of some little town. But until he knows 
that he would be far from complaining if fate compelled 
him both to live and to earn his living there, with only 
casual visits to his own country and such others as he may 
love, then he is still a tourist. So I can draw only what there 
was to see, and very little of myself. Yet a mere travel 


sketch is forgivable when no more tickets will ever be 
sold to Ruritania. 

The vast majority of the male population still wore their 
shirts outside their trousers, and confirmed Napoleon's 
aphorism that those who did so were the only honest men. 
Peasant costume was worn as a matter of course, with- 
out need of encouragement from folk-lore societies and 
nationalists. Even the industrial worker wore it, with 
lambskin cap on head and linen shirt nearly to the knees 
outside the tight, coarse-woollen trousers. On Sundays and 
holidays the dresses of both men and women flowered with 
fantastic panels of embroidery. The twentieth century 
showed only in the shoes which appeared to be cut from 
old inner-tubes — or perhaps folded from rubber sheet cut 
to the approximate size — and were held on by criss-crossed 
thongs in the manner of Viking or Saxon. 

The poverty of the town peasant was brutal. The villager 
at least could eat, his staple diet being maize porridge, and 
could build when he married, at the cheap cost of his own 
labour and that of a few gipsies, a one-storied cottage of 
whitewashed mud in a painted timber frame, aesthetically 
pleasing, weatherproof and clean — apart, that is, from the 
breeding fleas left behind by the gipsies. They were all 
hospitable, of conventional morality, drinkers in cheerful 
Latin measure rather than Slav fury, and with a shade of 
cruelty inevitably borrowed from the Russian and Turkish 
armies which too frequently had liberated their women, 
their horses and their crops. 

The class which wore tailor's trousers and tucked shirts 
in them seemed to me to lack any social conscience; but 
I may well be unfair, for I was observing the country in a 
state of transition between the patriarchal and the indus- 
trial. In liberal legislation Roumania was far ahead of 
Hungary or Poland. The great estates were broken up 
immediately after the war, and the boyar or landowner 


was only allowed to keep for himself the equivalent of a 
good English farm. His sons in the army or the civil service 
or politics were trying to support families on monthly sums 
which lasted me, a single man, about five not specially 
extravagant days. They could not afford a too punctilious 
honesty. Fifteen years later, when I was again in Bucharest, 
corruption in public life had improved to the pleasant and 
manageable standards of, say, a Central American 

Nearly all commerce was in the hands of the Jews, and 
there was no other middle class to be a buffer between the 
half- emancipated peasant and his former landlord. At the 
best the boyar among peasants had the attitude of a too- 
dignified officer at a party for other ranks ; at the worst he 
was threatening, loud and rude. Even I, fresh to a peasant 
country and conservatively supposing that the Roumanians 
knew how to handle their own labour best, found the 
unconscious antagonism displeasing. To a Spaniard, accus- 
tomed to courtesy between man and man whatever the 
difference of education or income, it would have seemed 

It was still the age of the horse and the railway. 
Foreigners and the wealthy had cars, but their use was 
limited. Beneath the rare patches of flat surface the roads 
of spring concealed mud pools which would swallow a car 
to the door handles. In summer the passing of a peasant 
cart raised a pillar of dust so impenetrable that a driver 
could only enter it at peril of head-on collision with the 
unseen. In winter the January blizzards shrieked down 
from Arctic Russia over the Black Sea, and the first con- 
siderable obstructions in the path of the horizontally driven 
snow were the city of Bucharest and the shrinking bodies of 
its inhabitants. When the wind dropped there were 
no more cars. The city was silent and pleasantly frozen 
— a fairy-tale frost, not at all of Russian or Canadian 


implacability — and the cab-drivers belled their horses and 
substituted runners for wheels. 

The drivers were eunuchs. They belonged to an ultra- 
pious sect of the Russian Old Believers which held that a 
man was so far condemned to the lusts of the flesh that he 
might have one child; thereafter duty to his immortal soul 
demanded that he should place himself beyond tempta- 
tion. Somewhere in Moldavia these wrinkled, hairless, 
yellowish men had a village and cultivable lands, but the 
traditional employment was cab-driving. There were, of 
course, other drivers, peasants uprooted though not sterile, 
whose cabs and horses showed their lack of any pride in 
the trade. The semicircle of smart victorias in summer and 
sleighs in winter which waited for hire outside the royal 
palace was all owned and driven by eunuchs. 

Men and women, the Roumanians were ingenious 
seekers after gaiety. The summer nights were no more 
willingly wasted in sleep by Bucharest society than by its 
former peasants whose music was as wild, whose dancing 
was better and whose fairs took the place of cabarets. The 
greatest fair of all, the Mos, was held in the early autumn 
outside Bucharest, still surviving from the days when little 
could be bought in the village shop. It was a market for 
labour, animals and manufactured goods, where the 
peasant could purchase whatever he needed for the profit 
of what he sold and exchange lice and news with his 
fellows from other provinces; where the Jew and the gipsy 
dexterously increased their handfuls of dirty paper money, 
and Bcssarabian horse-dealers, gallant in black and 
scarlet, rode with their troupes scornfully through the 
crowd, the golden dust of their passage settling slowly until 
blasted up again by the heat of the still evening and the 
brazen mouths of the barkers and the bands. 

The traveller in time had a chance to see once more the 
seventeenth-century Bartholomew Fair — apart from mid- 


Victorian steam roundabouts and shooting galleries in 
which dignified figures of iron, top- or straw-hatted, 
performed their natural functions when squarely hit. 
Monsters, dwarfs, mermaids and abortions were unin- 
hibited, and more proper to the decent obscurity of 
surgical and veterinary museums than to the straw or the 
divan of dirty rugs upon which they wriggled when poked 
by the proud proprietors. There was some kind of drinking 
booth for every twenty yards of alley. The more cleanly 
had the usual gipsy band of cymbalon and strings ; the 
cheaper made do with peasants blowing on brass or on 
leather instruments, including serpents and sackbuts, of 
astonishing antiquity. Even playing in unison the per- 
formers were hopelessly out of tune with each other, but 
the discords, unless you drank beneath the very mouths of 
the battered instruments, were unnoticeable since every 
band was determined to drown its neighbour. 

This roaring cacophony delighted me for whole evenings ; 
yet today I doubt if I could bear it for half an hour. That 
is due, I think, to a profound difference of civilisation 
rather than to age. After the footfalls of Bucharest and the 
soft silence of the Wallachian plain, where the only sounds 
were of frogs and running water, of domestic animals and 
distant voices, a gorgeous human row was welcome; but 
when the ears protest, though unconsciously, all day and 
much of the night against the rolling of traffic and the 
last-trump blare of aircraft, there is no human desire 
which more noise can possibly fulfil. 

The Roumanians were far too civilised — till the rise of 
the fascist Iron Guard — to be always waving and saluting 
flags. They were cosmopolitan by tradition, drawing their 
culture from the Eastern and their language from the 
Western Roman Empires, and had little in common with 
the Balkan States south of the Danube. The prosperous 
Serb or Bulgar of the nineteenth century was still fixing 


his eye upon the eccentricities of the Turkish pasha while 
his counterpart in Roumania already had it genially 
turned on Paris. 

So the foreign capitalist was not hated, though nearly 
all industry was dominated by him. We were so obviously 
enjoying ourselves; and the Roumanians, who always 
appreciated any picturesque escapade, leaped to forgive 
us whenever in the extravagance of wine we held ourselves 
above the law. There was an occasion when a banker and 
The Times correspondent, tempted at dawn by the incon- 
gruity of a park of municipal garbage trolleys outside 
the cathedral, set them all loose upon the promising slope 
which led with processional dignity down to the River 
Dambovitsa. But that was as nothing compared to the 
doings of the Texan oil-drillers in Ploesti. Their exploits, 
their women and their astonishing ability to shoot out 
lights without scoring on the cafe customers have passed 
into Roumanian folk-lore. 

I never visited the oil-fields in those still pioneering 
days, though I knew the heads of the bigger companies 
and had only to ask. It was not lack of curiosity. My free 
days were so few and precious that I did not wish to waste 
them on anything but the duck and the Danube marshes 
in spring and autumn, and the high Carpathians in 
summer and at Christmas. So the oil towns of Ploesti and 
Campina were for me only railway stations on the way 
to the mountains. 

I had, however, one swift and improbable visit to a little 
field near Bacau, spending a night on the floor of the 
manager's house and two in the train. General Henley, 
one of those much older men who befriended me and for 
whom I had an almost filial love, had invested in a con- 
cession where the oil was so near the surface that he and 
his Roumanian partner considered tunnelling rather than 
drilling to it, and the excavation of an underground 


reservoir. That this was possible could be seen from the 
local peasant wells. They had a diameter of a yard or so, 
and were lined with wickerwork. When enough oil had 
seeped into the bottom of the well, the proprietor lowered 
a man who bailed it out with a bucket. 

Henley was in some danger of being evicted from the 
concession by his Roumanian partner. I do not remember 
— if indeed I ever understood — the rights and wrongs of 
the case; but the general was a contemporary and friend 
of Hilaire Belloc and of exactly that robust and genial 
character which Belloc admired. He decided that possession 
was nine-tenths of the law and that the local manager, 
who was playing the partner's game, must be thrown out. 

He, his Roumanian lawyer and I suddenly descended 
upon the field and threw him out. The lawyer then 
assembled the workers, who had not been paid, and 
addressed them. Henley and I stood by, he at least look- 
ing benevolent and patrician. Meanwhile the manager 
had alerted the gendarmerie, and in the subsequent prods 
verbal, to which he swore, I was described as appearing 
with a pistol barely concealed in my pocket and the grim 
face of an abandoned criminal. I fear there was some truth 
in it. But, fortunately for my standing as a banker, country 
justice was in the hands of inexperienced magistrates on 
starvation salaries, and the prods verbal was torn up. 

On our way to the field we had stopped for a conspira- 
torial interview with the money-lender at the nearest big 
village. It was a village of Jews. Till then I had had the 
common western European illusion of Jewish prosperity, 
except among recent immigrants in the reception areas of 
great cities. That all around the Russian frontiers, from 
Lithuania through Poland to Roumania, they lived like 
the peasants in equal poverty and with less security was 
a new conception, destined to become more and more 
familiar to me. It gave me a sympathy for Zionism which 


was deeply emotional, whereas that of most other English- 
men who have any is intellectual or semi-religious. There 
on the edge of the Jewish Pale I was again in a period of 
transition. The pogroms which had horrified liberal Europe 
by rape and murder were over. The mass extermination 
was still to come. Of those frustrated innocents, some 
desperate to escape, some finding refuge in the complica- 
tion and recomplication of the divine words so that they 
should surrender the intention of the divine will, very few 

In order to fetch the wages of the workers I had next 
morning to ride down to this Jewish village. By a horseman's 
standards I cannot ride at all. I merely use the animal as 
convenient transport, sitting securely and correctly so 
long as it does not discover my complete ignorance. That 
oil-fields horse had the Roumanian genius for finding the 
weak points of the foreigner, and summed me up with a 
swiftness which would have been indecent in a well- trained 

Arriving at a forest track with a slope of one in three 
where the spring sun had not yet melted the ice, he squatted 
on his quarters in the position of a circus horse receiving 
a lump of sugar, and transformed himself into a bob- 
sleigh. How he cornered I do not know; but he was 
obviously revelling in his skill and would have been run- 
ning well up on the top of the banking if there had been 
any. The village banker restored my equanimity by mulled 
wine, and I remounted with a bag of money over my 
shoulder feeling that on the whole I was still a romantic 
figure. But that animal had my measure. He visited every 
flimsy building on the main street, generally entering the 
front door backwards. Mothers and children fled scream- 
ing, for this was worse than any descent of Cossacks. They 
at least knew how to control their horses. 

That evening, our lawyer protesting, all three of us were 


seen safely on to the train by the gendarmerie, forcing an 
unsatisfactory policeman's end to the story. I have no idea 
what happened to the partner, the manager or the con- 
cession, for the law-suit which was to decide their fate had 
hardly begun when Henley died on the cricket field. He 
may have known his heart was doomed, and for that reason 
wanted quick results. 

No word of this adventure ever reached the bank; so 
that both they and I were resigned, more or less con- 
tentedly, to the continuance of my career. I rented new 
rooms more central and more spacious. I took to regular 
golf on Sundays and a four of bridge once a week ; and 
instead of wasting time and money in the search for ever 
more exotic avatars of the female, I was prepared to wait 
for them. So blase had I become that I took over the 
running of the bar at the Country Club — an invention of 
the diplomats swiftly patronised by the court society — 
because it gave me an excuse to avoid dancing. 

I imagine I was becoming quite a smooth and pleasant 
young man with all outward eccentricities firmly sup- 
pressed unless time and season for them were presented. 
I had consciously decided that the two most important 
human virtues were dignity and discretion. I blush for 
this ; but since dignity and discretion had cost me so much 
trouble to attain, it is not unnatural that I attached undue 
importance to them. 

Yet these complacent terms upon which I was beginning 
to live with myself could not disguise from me the fact 
that, though my salary had risen to seven hundred a year, 
I was not earning it. When on leave in London in the 
summer of 1925 I suggested that I had long since learned 
all an insanitary correspondence department had to 
teach me and that I did not seem to be on the way to 
learning anything else. I had not long been back in 
Bucharest before I was offered a transfer to the Anglo- 


Persian Bank, a subsidiary of the Ottoman, as a travelling 
inspector of local branches. 

I should have enjoyed this; so would any of the local 
managers who happened to be feathering his nest. I still 
wonder why the London directors should have assumed 
that I was born with a knowledge of book-keeping. But 
perhaps they did not. My duties might have been to talk 
politics and high finance with the manager over a long 
and delicious Persian lunch, while the trained accountant, 
appearing from a different point of the horizon upon a 
somewhat balder camel, checked the bank's holdings of 

As a creature of moneyed or diplomatic society there 
was, that last autumn of my old self, little wrong with me. 
I was set firmly on the road to becoming a pillar of 
Throgmorton Street with my house in Surrey and a whole 
portfolio of good industrials deposited with my sententious 
stockbroker. Nothing could have changed the routine of 
a limited self and a limited society but surrender to a far 
more generous and powerful personality than my own, 
and nothing, short of disaster, could have caused that 
surrender but the finding in one woman not of the qualities 
I had tried to discover in so many, but of those I never 
knew existed. 

Casually, and satisfied by the exquisite choosing of my 
midday menu, I passed down the length of the bank with 
some trivial enquiry from the Correspondence Department 
to Bills and Discount. Upon the hard bench where clients 
who wished to cash a cheque in foreign currency were 
compelled to remain a good quarter of an hour was sitting 
a woman of, at a guess, about my own age. With fore- 
knowledge of the future our eyes met and could not be 
parted. The look was gentle, and not quite that veiled 


stare which arises from the mutual decision of the genes, 
imperious and generally inaccurate, that they are com- 
patible. Nor was it curiosity. I can only describe it as 
recognition. To avoid still wider conjecture I fall back on 
J. W. Dunne for explanation, and assume that the violence 
of the future was projecting itself into the present. As for 
my actions in the familiar three-dimensional world, I 
requested that her cheque be cashed with reasonable speed, 
and that was all. 

Next day we passed in the street, and exchanged some 
remarks of a curious, sudden melancholy, unnatural for 
complete strangers. As in a first act of Ibsen, nothing that 
was said had any obvious relation to what was meant — at 
least not to us two who may be taken as only reading the 
play. To the unseen watchers in the stalls, ironic cherubim 
of Ashtoreth, experimenting with the human capacity for 
pain, the action no doubt appeared perfectly straight- 

If the love story were fiction I should write only the 
woman's view of it, inevitably wiser and more sensitive 
than that of a young banker who would have given, if 
ordered, all the world but had still to learn what giving 
meant. Here, remembering reality, I am compelled to see 
the narrative through my own eyes. Rather than divide so 
unfairly a common possession, I shall record only those 
emotions — I cannot call them facts — which were relevant 
to my movements. 

When she returned from Bucharest to Paris, the flame 
roared up in daily correspondence. I took my 1926 leave in 
February and we spent it in Nice and England, des- 
perately searching for enough common ground to justify 
marriage. She could not find it. I was prepared to find it 
ten times over even if it was not there. Our backgrounds 
were as different as those of Cortes and Marina — by which 
I mean that however far in known history the fines of male 


and female descent be traced, there would be no common 
ancestor and no common culture. This sudden doubling 
of the world was fascinating for each of us; but more inti- 
mate 'recollections' were needed — using the word both in 
its normal sense and that which Jacquetta Hawkes has 
given it. The yawn of Cortes when Marina babbled of 
girls, unknown to him, at Montezuma's court, the indigna- 
tion of Marina when he traditionally insisted that you 
could not put a proper cutting edge upon obsidian though 
he knew from the wounds on his own body that you 
could — I can well imagine both and the desperate search 
for a community of interest to justify not only mutual love 
but mutual respect. 

The stage was heavy with tragedy and longing and the 
impossible. But I was not taking impossibility for an 
answer. All the vitality of my youthful excesses was now 
channelled into a single ambition : to distort the world and 
the woman into the shape I wanted. 

Life with an irresponsible stranger was difficult enough 
for her to envisage, especially since he was too young for 
her both in years and in experience ; life with him in anti- 
semitic Roumania was harder still, for she came of a long, 
pure and mystically distinguished line of Chassidic rabbis. 
She was American by birth, but her childhood background, 
though moved across the Atlantic in space, was in time 
exactly that of the Moldavian village which my horse, 
alone of all living things in it, had been unwilling to 

So Roumania had to go ; nor was Persia a tempting spot 
for the foreign wife of a continually travelling inspector. I 
was faced with the desperate business of finding myself 
another job while fifteen hundred miles from London 
where the jobs were handed out, and with my yearly leave 
already taken. 

My mother, who would readily ask any stranger she 


met for anything she wanted — a quality which frequently 
caused acute embarrassment to her husband and sons, but 
on occasion was useful — managed to get for me a firm offer 
from Elders & Fyffes, the banana importers. It gave me 
what I wanted : employment abroad with reasonable pros- 
pects, though my salary returned to its 1922 figure of four 
hundred a year. 

Elders & Fyffes were model employers, ahead of their 
time in pensions and welfare schemes, and deservedly loved 
by all their British and some of their foreign employees — 
some only, because they believed in the curious super- 
stition, common to nearly all British and American firms, 
that it was wiser to send abroad one of their own nationals 
of average ability or less, rather than to spend the same 
amount in obtaining an exceptionally able foreigner. 

In the early nineteen-hundreds the firm pioneered the 
introduction of the West Indian banana into the British 
Isles and, through Rotterdam, the Continent. Their fleet 
suffered such losses in the war that they were compelled to 
merge with the United Fruit Company. It was, I believe, a 
very friendly Anglo-American partnership. United Fruit 
produced the bananas in the West Indies and Central 
America. Elders & Fyffes collected and sold them to 
Western Europe. 

They were then monopolists, and could be ruthless to 
buyers. They had to be, for they were competing with the 
Canary Islands banana, which is good eating even if not 
fully ripe, whereas the West Indian banana, until it is deep 
yellow and spotted with black, is a dull vegetable rather 
than a fruit. So the firm had to compel wholesalers to ripen 
their bananas scientifically, and to market them only when 
ripe they were. It was a monopoly which had its advan- 
tages for the public. Today the warehousemen and retailers, 
secure in their knowledge that Canary bananas are hard 
to find and that the housewife looks for appearance rather 


than taste in what she buys, defraud banana-eaters with 
insipid turnips of daffodil-green. 

In July 1926 I reported for duty to Elders & Fyffes' 
immense warehouse at St Ouen outside Paris. It had the 
size and something of the appearance of a main line ter- 
minus in a large provincial town. The banana trains from 
Rotterdam were shunted in under the glass roof, and 
unloaded into the ripening rooms which lined, on tv/o 
levels, the long sides of the building. Dealers of other 
nations could be bullied or persuaded into holding the 
fruit until it was ripe; but nothing on earth could make a 
Frenchman do so. With few exceptions, therefore, every 
West Indian banana sold in Paris had been ripened at 
St Ouen. 

Between the tracks and in the centre of the concrete 
floor was a control box where one Englishman, recruited 
expensively in Lancashire, and another, bought cheap in 
Paris, checked every bunch in and every box out, bi- 
lingually and blasphemously, for ten hours from eight to 
six. After listening to them at work I realised that while 
my French might do very well for polite conversation in 
international society I had not even begun to speak it. 

The slightly precious young banker was out of place and 
felt it, desperately certain that he was never going to care 
whether the French ate bananas or whether they per- 
formed with them the difficult operation which was being 
constantly recommended by the control box. It was also 
evident that the fruit trade called for approaching complete 
strangers with brazen confidence and getting up very early 
in the morning. The first gift I have since managed to 
acquire; the second, never. I spent four years trying to 
persuade the Correspondence Department that when I 
arrived at 9.20 it was the moral equivalent of 9. At St 
Ouen it was 8 — and, if customers on Les Halles had to be 


visited, it was so early that one might as well sit up all 

After a few weeks in Paris I was sent to Lille as an extra 
hand while the manager was on holiday. In this small 
office, handling mere trucks where St Ouen handled whole 
trains, I began to understand the paper work of the trade 
and — when the market collapsed under us in a blazing 
August — its morale. Loyalty was not to Elders & Fyffes 
but to the fruit. London and Paris, Liverpool, Rotterdam, 
Hamburg and every little branch with an active fruit 
market and a goods yard baking in the heat were all trying 
to relieve the pressure on each other. 

Hours ceased to count. Dealers were taunted into taking 
a wicked loss for the sake of future profits. The barrow 
boys charged into the battle, filling the streets with the 
perfume of bananas and driving the sellers of early pears 
and melons and peaches and grapes into appeals to their 
bank managers and suicidal telegrams to the growers. To 
be compelled to send for the municipal garbage lorries to 
remove a whole ripening- room of bananas was a disgrace 
like losing the guns. It was in fact a game, and appealed to 
the simple minds of the British, including my own, who 
prefer to exert themselves not for money or any personal 
reward, but simply because it has been agreed to set up a 
bottle in a quite arbitrary position and throw stones at it 
until it smashes. It may be that absurd simplicity which has 
made of us a people so dangerous in war. Our view of the 
Government and its aims is generally derisory; our pay, 
inadequate though it be, is disputed by the War office; our 
only enthusiasm is for the minor criminalities which loyalty 
to the unit invites and pride in ingenuity permits ; but we 
cannot stop shooting at the bottle. 

The interest in reading thermometers and gambling 
with my employers' assets which I began to show at Lille 
came too late. I was, I suspect, considered unworthy to 


serve the gods of the West Indies, and relegated to the 
society of those degenerate Latins who had the effrontery 
to produce, to sell and even to eat Canary bananas. I was 
asked if I would like to go to Spain. I said that I would. I 
cannot remember an occasion in my life when, if asked to 
go somewhere, I did not accept. 

Once in the Canary department, I was freer to enjoy 
Paris. So long as I turned up at St Ouen for the communal 
lunch — followed, to aid digestion, by violent cricket in the 
great concrete spaces of the warehouse — nobody much 
cared what I did for the rest of the day. I was supposed to 
be learning the business at Les Halles in the small hours of 
the morning. As the friendly little Spaniard who was our 
chief Canary salesman did not in the least want to be 
bothered by a sleepy and incompetent amateur, both he 
and I kept discreetly silent as to the time when I had really 
joined him on his rounds. 

Again I was fated to be a wealthy bachelor. That sum- 
mer in Paris the franc fell to 240 to the pound and settled 
around 220, but prices remained at the equivalent of 100. 
The rate of the franc, combined with my exasperated 
private misery, permitted excesses which equalled those of 
1923 Roumania; but they were not enjoyable, for they 
were always succeeded by remorse. What should have 
been a gay and glittering period of my life, I remember as 
long weeks of futility. They ended abruptly when Marina 
returned to Europe. She felt the atmosphere, accompanied 
me to Madrid, moved by charity rather than any faith in 
the future, and departed again. I was becoming used to 
leaving railway stations with set face and alone. 

The remedy was work. I did my still ignorant best to 
assist my companions to open the office in Madrid. They 
were brilliantly chosen. The General Manager in Rotter- 
dam must have been a cunning picker of men. Moore was 
plain English with no frills, quietly determined to make a 


success of his first independent command and with enough 
temperament, when annoyed or enthusiastic, to delight 
the Spaniards. Blairsy, the accountant, was a Canary 
Islander of French parentage. He took a lot of knowing, 
for he had slid unnoticed through the jungle of Spanish, 
French and English business methods until he came out on 
the far side with thought and speech of his own. He was a 
loving, gentle man, from whom eccentricities would burst 
surprisingly as the triumphant appearance of a tramcar 
just when dawn streets are at their most silent. 

I was continually reminded of Borrow's Bible in Spain — 
though the three of us were but a pale shadow of one 
Borrow — for on the face of it there was an almost religious 
unworldliness in sending a British expedition to Spain to 
make the Spaniards eat their own bananas. But Elders & 
Fyffes were playing a most intelligent game. Bananas in 
Spain were the food of the well-to-do. If they could be 
made the food of the poor, then Spain would consume a 
high proportion of its own Canary bananas which would 
thus be taken off the European markets. Elders & Fyffes 
themselves were the biggest producers in the Canary 
Islands and intended to remain so, but their harvest was 
always getting in the way of more profitable business. 

At first our mission seemed to us quixotic. The whole- 
salers in the Plaza de la Cebada had a proper sense of the 
value of leisure ; they did as little work as possible for as 
big a price as they could get. The gospel which we had 
come to preach — that they should double their sales and 
halve their profits — was not, therefore, easily acceptable. 
Worse still, they were accustomed to sell bananas on com- 
mission, while we insisted that they should pay cash. 

Neither Moore nor I spoke any Spanish beyond the few 
phrases we had picked up at hasty Berlitz lessons. But we 
wrestled with the language as best we could — since Blairsy, 
who was deep in leases and licences, could not always be 


interpreting for us — and persuaded the wholesalers to buy 
a little on our terms. It was not really our babbling which 
won the trick, but the merchants' fear lest the incalculable 
Fyffes — that was the name of the firm in Spain, and my 
affectionate memory still pronounces it Feeffess — should 
do something English and awkward in the Islands. There 
was also a threat in the shape of a large empty warehouse 
behind the office where we could, if forced, store and ripen 
bananas for sale direct to the retailers. We were always 
trying to explain away politely the presence of this empty 
warehouse. We must have been altogether too courteous 
about it, for the wholesalers soon decided that their fears 
were groundless, and refused to have any truck at all with 
our absurd idea of selling fruit for cash. 

The new and untried team was given permission to meet 
ultimatum by war. That was typical of our employers. They 
always stuck to the rule that the man on the spot knew 
best, and he was never reproached for making a mistake 
so long as it was bold and honest. In return they received 
an eager devotion quite unknown to businesses modelled 
upon the cautious and distrustful methods of Government 

Moore let the usual shipment come through, though we 
had not a buyer in prospect. Perishable fruit, remember! 
We hung our bunches in the warehouse and even in the 
offices, and sold at cut prices to the retailers, who gladly 
absorbed our propaganda that the merchants were making 
too much profit. Another outlet was Pablo Dominguez. He 
was an illiterate and genial barrow boy who had won a big 
prize in the Spanish lottery and set himself up as a whole- 
sale fruit merchant. We flooded him with bananas at any 
price he chose to pay for them, and preserved the illusion 
of selling for cash by collecting in nightly instalments 
before he could hit the cabarets with the kitty. After a few 
weeks of this the grave wholesalers surrendered. As for 


FyfFes, Madrid, it could not only speak a sort of Castilian, 
but was prepared to shout it in the streets, We were 
accepted for the unscrupulous and laughing bandits that 
we were, and the warehouse was never used again. 

So much for my life on the Plaza de la Gebada. In my 
leisure hours, when I had any, I persuaded myself that I 
was more miserable than I really was. Nothing suited me. 
Madrid compared to Paris was appallingly expensive — for 
the balance of payments changes the face of Europe from 
one generation to another. I did not like Spanish food, and 
I had not realised that Spanish wine should be drunk from 
the wood or the leather, not from the bottle. Other amuse- 
ments were too formal. The Spanish vision of reality left no 
room for any pleasantly pagan fairyland between the altar 
and the cattle-market. I was thus compelled to be faithful 
to Marina and sourly to content myself with contemplation 
of my own virtue. 

It also began to occur to me that I was using none of the 
qualities with which an expensive education had presented 
me, and none of its opportunities. That I was earning my 
living without them was a matter for satisfaction genuine 
enough to hide from me the fact that I had pushed away 
the conventional ladder of a career, but at bottom sardonic. 

In such a mood of discontent — the physical causes well 
known to me, the spiritual less obvious — I visited Toledo ; 
and never, perhaps, was odder reason for a pilgrimage to 
that harsh and beautiful power-house of history than to 
study its potentialities as a banana market. A couple of 
hours among the retailers convinced me that it was best 
served from Madrid, and I actually found time to enter the 
cathedral. I had a sense of guilt that I should give time to 
art, for there was a strain of masochism in me which suited 
the town. Because I so disliked to impose my poor Spanish 
and my amateur salesmanship upon men pretending to be 
busy, I never felt I had done enough of it. Later on, when 


I was more certain of my judgement and more used to the 
hair shirt of the salesman, I should have admitted that in 
Toledo a half-hour's wearing of it was ample. 

I had lunch at a humble fonda, sharing a table with some 
citizen of Christian birth and exquisite breeding who did 
not find it necessary to wear a collar and tie. He was 
probably a small farmer. Starting from the admirable 
relationship between our two selves, which had quietly 
developed over a second litre, we discussed — so far as my 
Spanish and his education allowed — the long lovers' quar- 
rel between our countries. I was surprised to hear myself 
declaring, though he had courteously refrained from 
forcing any such conclusion on me, that the Reformation 
was a disaster and Francis Drake a pirate. He left the fonda 
before me, and when I called for my bill I found it had 
been paid. 

That, of course, was a point of honour among old- 
fashioned Spaniards. We were only allowed to stand a 
round of drinks in a market cafe when the little banana 
war was over and Fyffes had been accepted as a permanent 
lodger. But I had not realised that courtesy would be so 
commanding as to pay in secret for the stranger's lunch 
and the wine which he himself had, with permission, 
ordered. Nor was my friend a man who could readily 
afford to offer himself such luxuries of behaviour. 

I walked out of the city and stood by the roadside, look- 
ing across the gorge of the Tagus to the barren hills 
beyond. There, with an almost Pauline suddenness of 
emotion, I felt a sense of unity with this country, hitherto 
disliked. I knew beyond any doubt at all that in Spain I 
should find or fulfil a destiny. 

It was akin to the upsurge of love which any Englishman 
must experience when on some perfect June day he stands 
upon the smooth Wiltshire or Dorset turf and looks down, 
northwards, over the elms and hedges of the vale. He is not 


moved only by beauty of landscape, and nor was I. The 
bare autumn of Old Castile, the yellow stone, the distant 
and unpitying sky — not for these alone were skin and hair 
moving and sensitive, but for what they had bred. That 
unknown farmer, casually exposing a small splendour of 
humanity as if a church servant should open the doors of a 
golden ikon, was for ever beyond my imitation yet appealed 
to an ideal of generosity which I did not know I held 
at all. 

My impressions of men and manners — vague preferences 
and prejudices which I had hardly attempted to analyse — 
took on a meaning. Then and there I realised that what I 
had learned from Roumania was the least of what was in 
it to learn, and that France when a Spaniard sees her, a 
little fat and sullen, from the Pass of Roncesvalles seems 
less essential to the well-being of mankind than when she 
glitters across the Channel. 

Dignity, so far as it was not the unselfconscious Spanish 
dignity of bearing, rolled down the hill into the Tagus. 
Discretion appeared as an art of giving, not as an excuse 
for withholding oneself. A cold analysis. What happened 
was that Spain, so gloriously full of the trumpets and ban- 
ners of the spirit, marched past; and I fell in with the 
baggage and the carts of pikes. 

A fine conversion, it may be answered! The man had 
been soaking up free red wine and now maintains that he 
was intoxicated by a sort of mysticism. To that I reply that 
the conversion was permanent: that the values which I 
then for the first time accepted, I still accept. As for wine, 
my normal receptiveness is that of a cold Englishman, and 
it is hard to convince me of anything at all without some 
moderate aid from that divine drug which no scientist's 
prescription will ever be able to surpass. The laboratory 
indeed may learn to restore a tired mind or body as effi- 
ciently as the stronger alcohols; but wine heightens human 


sympathy and human perception. It carries me, even if in 
times past with too much noise and extravagance of spirit, 
towards the possible man at whom I was intended to 

Have I in fact found a destiny in Spain? Not at any rate 
in the number of my visits, for it is twenty years since I 
was there. War sent me farther afield, and peace is such 
peace that I hesitate to break the pattern of the years by 
travel. But the influence of Spain and Spanish America is, 
I suspect, marked in my personality as a writer. In the real 
person there is only a veneer of Latinity, occasionally 
merging with solid wood. To Toledo, and not to any 
youthful training in leadership, do I owe such liking as my 
fellows and subordinates had for me in war. From Toledo 
I date the courtliness with which — I hope — I treat the 
stranger, though my manners to my friends leave much to 
be desired. Because I could think as a Spaniard I was able, 
when I knew neither their customs nor their language, to 
be easily correct among Arabs. And to this day — a trivial 
point but dating precisely from Toledo — if I cannot afford 
the best which Europe offers I prefer Spanish food. 

But one ribald instance of fact is worth all this groping 
for the intangible. When I had been a year or more in the 
United States I took a boat through the Panama Canal 
from New York to Los Angeles. It stopped for eight 
blessed hours at Havana, and I fled into the peace of the 
old town, hungry for all the familiar simplicities. They 
were the days of prohibition, and, though the ship once 
outside territorial waters opened a bar, American thirst 
was too impatient to be bothered with wine. 

When, therefore, I came on a cellar full of imported 
Rioja in the wood, I went in and ordered a ten-litre 
carboy, or garrafon, to take on board with me. The social 
atmosphere was restful, so I remained sitting among the 
barrels with other customers until I suddenly realised that 


the ship was due to sail. To my horror, I found that after 
paying for the wine and its container I had not a cent left 
in my pocket for a taxi. 

One of my companions upon the bench insisted that 
there was no need for such raw alarm, and that we had 
time to appreciate still another glass of Rioja. He was, he 
said, a taxi-driver, and it would be a pleasure for him, if I 
permitted it, to take me to my ship. 

We reached the quay with five minutes to spare, and 
I said good-bye to my saviour at the length and with the 
warmth that his civilisation merited. Going on board with 
my garrafon, I was aware that hundreds of American eyes 
were watching me from the promenade deck with 
curiosity. Because I was late? Because I was carrying a 
container normally used for sulphuric acid? It took me 
some minutes to realise that in fact it was because the 
caballero with whom I happened to be on such excellent 
terms was coal-black. I had not even noticed it — or only 
as you notice whether a man has brown eyes or grey — 
since I had been thinking in Spanish and it was therefore 
impossible that my manners should be affected by colour. 
Most of those Americans would have been, no doubt, just 
as courteous as I, but they would have been conscious of 
virtue. I was not. Yet if I were in Durban, not Havana, 
I doubt if I could always treat the African as I should 
wish to — though it would be my English sense of class 
rather than colour which prevented me — unless I deliber- 
ately imagined that he spoke Spanish. 

A footnote to my story. The barman threw my garrafon 
overboard when I was not looking, and with studied 
insolence hardly troubled to pretend that he had not. It 
would have been excusable if there had been anything to 
drink with the unspeakable meals upon that floating hell 
of sweetness and light; but since there was not, the murder 
of my garrafon, drowned as if it had been some monstrous 


kitten, showed a lack of business sense which one does not 
expect in barmen. Wine with my meals instead of the iced 
water with which my fellow passengers were encouraging 
their future ulcers would have increased my tolerance, and 
I should have bought more, not less, of the poisons poured 
from his shining and hygienic dispensary. 

But why exasperate memory? Let us return to Spain. 
With Madrid reluctantly buying bananas, Moore sent out 
his missionaries farther afield. Blairsy took over roaring 
Barcelona. I carried the propaganda to the North Coast, 
and in the spring of 1927 opened an office in Bilbao. I was 
astonished to discover that I was an efficient business man, 
confident in my ability to judge the market, to remember 
the nicknames of the stevedores, to handle the Customs, 
the mates of Spanish ships (who could bring disaster on 
all of us if they did not watch the temperatures in the 
holds) and the stationmasters from whom I had to extract 
closed wagons. Against this, I readily admit that I could 
never have held a job as shipping clerk or accountant. If 
I had to count crates unloaded from ship to wharf, I got 
the total wrong; and it took me months to master Fyffes' 
basically simple method of accounting for fruit and cash 
by one immense sheet on which little totals travelled from 
box to box and line to line until, sweating with panic, they 
emerged from the maze into reality by a turnstile in the 
bottom right-hand corner. 

This was in a way success, and it is possible that I 
looked forward in rare moments of ambition to becoming 
a director of Elders & Fyffes. Certainly I would far rather 
have been that than a director of the Ottoman Bank at 
four times the income. But I suspect that I handled my 
branch, profitable though I made it, in too personal a 
manner — a fault in war and in commerce, for it sets 
unnecessary difficulties for a successor. I liked to have big 
customers and few of them. I hated to start competition 


to men who had taken a chance with me in the first few 
months — more especially as I was very fond of them. 

First and toughest was Bernardino Garay, a sturdy, 
pock-marked man in his middle forties, with the face of a 
Roman Emperor on a day when the legions were doing 
well and his chief rival had died in battle. He had the 
short, thick hawk-nose common among the Basques, which 
I was to see again in Lebanon. 

When I first called on him he was a plain corner grocer 
with a couple of bunches of bananas hanging in his door- 
way. He listened to my story, checked the figures and 
plunged. With the profits of the first half-year he rented 
the whole basement under a block of flats, fitted it up for 
scientific ripening and handed over the grocery shop to 
his wife. 

Like all Basque business men, he had a contemptuous 
confidence in his own ability to make twice as much 
money as other Spaniards in half the time, and it infuriated 
him that his and my chief competitor, a charming and 
worried Canary Islander who imported from his brothers' 
estates, could occasionally lay a successful ambush. The 
feeling between the relentless Basque and the dashing 
Andalusian grew so bitter that I had to reduce tempera- 
tures by getting them together over a dinner table. The 
party became uproarious and exclamatory as soon as they 
discovered that the bad risks in the market were telling the 
same lies to both of them. 

There was a small British colony in Bilbao, all engaged 
in shipping and the iron-ore trade, but I saw little of 
them — with the exception of a salesman of my own age, 
named Foster, who loved Spain for the same intangible 
reasons and spoke a Spanish as fluent as my own and less 
coarsely proletarian. We met for the first time on the top 
of a mountain and, though each morally certain that the 
other was English, opened conversation in formal Gastilian. 


After that we were frequent companions on the wild 
beaches, in the dusty lanes and at the wine-stained tables 
in remote country taverns. 

Otherwise I lived as a middle-class Spaniard and mixed 
only with them. That this was pleasant and possible was 
due entirely to Bernardino Garay. He introduced me to 
the customs and foods and wines of the Basque provinces, 
explained to me the customs of other provinces, corrected 
me if my manners were insufficiently punctilious and edu- 
cated me in the fine points of bull-fighting. Not that Bilbao 
cared for too refined an artistry. We preferred the big 
Miura bulls and swordsmen such as Martin Aguero who 
killed with a single thrust. The butterflying of gipsies, 
however exquisite, left us cold if they finished by poking 
at the bull from — should there be such a thing — a safe 

I had small customers all the way from Pamplona to 
Oviedo, and big ones at San Sebastian and Santander. I 
loved the narrow-gauge railways which carried me from 
port to port and, above all, the toy train which rumbled, 
stopping for lunch a full comfortable hour, from Santander 
into Asturias along the loveliest coast in Europe — still 
mercifully without hotels though I could wish that one 
would be opened for me alone. 

In San Sebastian my buyer, Macario Sanz, was a merry 
man of Aragon, blasphemous, excitable and a gifted player 
of the guitar. Compared to Garay, he seemed more like 
an Italian than a Spaniard. That dancing, thoroughbred 
nervousness had given him a stomach ulcer. You would 
never have known it except when he cursed blind because 
he had to drink milk. A triumph of temperament over 

In Santander I had two customers, with stands opposite 
each other separated only by the central aisle of the market. 
The wives, who were ladies of very decided character, 


were not on speaking terms and their husbands obeyed. 
One was a mass of bosom and dignity, a pillar of Church 
and State dressed always in black, with a little daughter 
neatly curled and frilled. The other, a republican and an 
atheist, was dressed in whatever she happened to find 
under the bed when she got up, with several little daughters 
in rags. The working capital of both families was about 

Anywhere else the quarrel could be analysed as a ques- 
tion of class, between a woman trying to rise and another 
who could not be bothered, or — looking for a political 
rather than a social cause — as a quarrel between authori- 
tarianism and democracy. But in Spain both simplifications 
are too easy. Even among women any head-tossing or 
verbal expression of class difference is rare. As for demo- 
cracy, the Spaniard is too solid a realist to consider the 
vote a practical method of government. It is a pantomime 
of approval or disapproval. 

The antagonism between my two customers began in 
the middle of the last century, caused the revolution, burst 
out into the Civil War and is nowhere near a solution yet. 
On the right of the market was monarchy and paternalism 
for the worker; on the left, republicanism and legislation 
for the worker. But the political division does not corre- 
spond to our own, where the left stands for state control 
and the right for such individual liberty as is still possible. 
The Spanish left had a strong tendency to anarchism and 
put individual liberty above all else. That was the ideal 
which wrecked the Republic. It refused to govern. The 
Spanish right was for authority first, and liberty afterwards. 

But between the two positions there was plenty of room 
for compromise. Dignity disapproved, like any respectable 
woman, of Alfonso XIII and had an exaggerated opinion 
of the dictator, Primo de Rivera. Rags would have hanged 
Primo de Rivera on the market gates but saw qualities in 


Alfonso XIII which might have made him a picturesque 
leader of the masses. The fundamental division was over 
the Church, and it was their respective attitudes towards 
the Church which forced the two parties, in Santande> 
market as in Spain, into positions from which there was no 

Only the foreigner profits, and I was no exception. I 
had only to tell one that the other did not complain of my 
price and was giving me a big order for her to do so as 
well. I am thankful to record — since it is a good omen for 
Spain — that eventually their common sense triumphed. 
They compared notes ; and on my next appearance in the 
market each listened to the other telling me what she 
thought of me. But Church was so pleased by the cutting 
courtesy of her beautiful Spanish, and the Embattled 
Working-Class by its flow of Rabelaisian invective that I 
was quickly forgiven. 

After a year of casual business drinks with both hus- 
bands, Church asked me to lunch at her flat. This was 
utter tragedy for Labour, for she could not bring herself 
to do the same, knowing how primitive her family living 
quarters were. It was a proud day in my life when at last 
she took the plunge, since it showed a confidence that I 
would not compare, not despise and not talk. I must admit 
that when I reached her depressing room I thought polite- 
ness was going to have to work overtime. But it was not 
necessary. Aided by some obscure and heavenly dish from 
her own village of Torrelavega, warmth took its place. 

Thereafter lunch in Santander presented a complication 
of protocol which would have puzzled a court chamberlain. 
I had to choose between inviting or being invited by one 
of the families. That offered four possible alternatives, one 
of which would be correct and three of which would be 
wrong. They were again not on speaking terms, but their 
stalls were so close that each could hear the other's invi- 


tation; and I am certain those confounded women used to 
take a quiet pleasure in waiting for whatever social lies I 
should have to invent. 

While all this entertaining and, for me, revolutionary 
life was going on, only a third of me appreciated it once the 
door of my room was shut. The other two-thirds were in 
love and steadfastly refusing to take no for an answer. 

I caressed Marina with innumerable letters, trying to 
make of words an astral body, an extension of myself more 
powerful and more present than any her memory could 
supply. My own memory was obedient. I would not allow 
it to play me that trick, intolerable to lovers, of obliterating 
within a week the face of the beloved. Feature by feature I 
built it in air, for when I was with her I marked down the 
curve, the angles and the shadows like a draughtsman 
preparing a portrait upon the sale of which he must live a 

How often I wrote I cannot remember, but it was never 
less than once a week. Sometimes I had as many answers, 
and my private life would be almost gay with hope. Some- 
times there would be a gap of a month or more, and I 
learned to dread the letter which would end the silence 
more than the silence itself. 

At last she mentioned a possible return to Europe, and I 
convinced myself she would stay. She had never made any 
conditions for marriage. She was far too generous a person. 
But certain minimum conditions were obvious. Financial 
security. A reasonable climate since her health was erratic. 
A standard of living sufficient to give her ease. Bilbao 
provided the lot. That accounted for my relentless energy 
in carving out a kingdom for myself. 

I felt that an atmosphere of domesticity might be impres- 
sive, emphasising the new solids in my character and my 
work. So I took a flat in the coastal village of Algorta, half 
an hour from Bilbao by electric train, and proceeded 


sketchily to furnish it like a cock bird building his token 
nest in the mating season and ceremoniously presenting a 
twig to the suspicious hen. 

It was my first attempt at creating my own living con- 
ditions, and memory dwells upon the result with mingled 
amusement and hatred. The purchase of furniture, linen 
and crockery left me with nothing for redecoration, with 
the result that I had to do my best with colours as I found 
them. The living-room was a lovely place, for one window 
looked across the sea to the faint red and white of Castro 
Urdiales, sixteen miles away, and the other to the green 
peak of Gorbea and the foothills of the Pyrenees. Give me 
that room today, a bucket of whitewash and a Bokhara 
rug, and I do not think I could go far wrong. As it was, I 
found a wallpaper of violet and brown surmounting a 
dado of imitation dark-oak panelling. Faced with the 
impossible, I settled for violet curtains as well. I am certain 
that the bouts of depression which later overcame me in 
that room were due quite as much to the colour scheme as 
to hopeless love. 

The bedroom lent itself to more daring treatment. I 
decided that I could not offend the canons (whatever they 
might be) of interior decorating if I followed the colours 
with which nature had adorned the pomegranate, and I 
maintain to this day — though Marina would not, I think, 
agree with me — that if I had not set my pomegranate 
among such an unconscionable deal of bright green, it 
would have been a room of distinction. 

In the dining-room taste was surer. A local cabinet- 
maker built and carved from his book of patterns a Chip- 
pendale table and chairs of solid Spanish walnut. His 
craftsmanship illumined the whole room. So did that of 
my cook. I can claim no credit for finding her. An agency 
sent her, hoping that a foreign bachelor would overlook 
the fact that she had no references. She was a respectable 



lady of middle age and middle class who had just run away 
from an unspeakable husband. But I did not then know it, 
and I am bitterly ashamed to remember that I took no 
interest whatever in her personal life or that of the little 
daughter who accompanied her. Our only common ground 
was my evening meal, which gradually became as much 
French as Spanish, for I had only to explain to that 
admirable woman how a dish appeared and of what it 
chiefly tasted for her to produce the original. 

Marina, arriving duly chaperoned, was impressed. But 
no sooner was she assured by the obvious respectability of 
my life that I had learned discipline than the very dullness 
of that life appalled her. I was had both ways. She found 
less attractive than ever the prospect of marriage to a fruit 
merchant whose social and intellectual interests appeared 
to be dead, whose fixation upon the colour of ripe bananas 
was such that he desired the complementary violet to 
decorate the living-room. 

The verdict was unfavourable, but a remission of my 
endless sentence, of which I had now served three years, 
seemed just possible. Nineteen twenty-eight was in its way 
an endurable year, for Paris, where she decided to live, 
could be reached for a week-end if one spent two nights in 
the train, and the second-class return fare was no great 

I remember setting out for a long Christmas week-end, 
to which I had looked forward for months. I arrived at 
Irun, the frontier station, and found that I had forgotten 
my passport in the office safe. It took me a mere quarter of 
an hour to satisfy the Spanish frontier officials — since the 
Irun Football Club had been enjoying a season of remark- 
able success, and I could recall the scores and the 

Very well, they said, an Englishman of such sympathy 
and distinction could go, so far as they were concerned, to 



France or the devil without a passport, but the French 
would never let me in. The French frontier control officer, 
advised by his Spanish colleague that I was a known orna- 
ment of the Basque Provinces and that I only wanted to go 
to Paris for Christmas to see my girl, agreed at once that 
the object was worthy and go I might, but added that the 
stationmaster would never give permission. 

I could not see what the stationmaster had to do with it, 
but I was encouraged to try my hand with him. He was 
indeed the most difficult of them all. Railway Law laid it 
down that if there were an accident and if my body were 
collected with no papers of identification, then the station- 
master would be responsible. I cannot explain this, but as 
in so many arbitrary rules of French bureaucracy there is, 
somewhere, logic. I assured him that the Paris-Orleans 
had never been known to have an accident — the line had 
just had two spectacular smashes — and it so pleased him 
that the vulgar publicity had not reached me that he, too, 
let me through. 

That was a civilised Europe. On my way back to Bilbao, 
the Spanish officials were so delighted by my success, to 
which they themselves had chiefly contributed, that we 
had a bottle of wine in the customs shed — their wine. At 
no point had there been any question of a bribe. 

During that year of 1928 Marina and I became friends 
in love rather than strangers in love. She still believed that 
I ignored far too many human beings. I on my part had 
little patience with her marked sympathy for the worthless. 
Her values were exaggeratedly early Christian, and both 
emotion and the expression of it were important to her; a 
mandarin or stoic self-control she underrated. But we were 
each beginning to understand the reactions of the other to 
the outside world, and the store of common memories 
grew. There were more things to laugh at. My disappoint- 
ment when I found that I could not hold her was worse 


than ever, for this time there was no very obvious reason. 
She must have known that her loveliest quality was 
wasted on me, for I have never been a man who could be 
mothered. My instinct in trouble is not to lay my head 
upon a woman's bosom but to get into a corner by myself. 
What then, in the absence of children, was to be her 
woman's reward? In spite of all that casual travel, those 
crossings and recrossings of the Atlantic, venturousness 
had no appeal for her. For few Americans is it enough. 
Their men — if it is fair to judge by the mass of the soldiery 
in war — are capable of such monumental boredom in any 
foreign land that to engage the enemy is less hardship than 
to endure the ally; their women are unhappy unless they 
can create or persuade themselves that they have created 
the atmosphere of their own home town. Yet Marina 
would have accepted Bilbao and courageously faced her 
own homesickness if she had felt that I really needed her. I 
suppose few women have ever been needed more, and for 
the sake of her character and companionship as much as 
for her physical beauty. But I should agree that there was 
something wrong with the need. It lacked humanity. It had 
some resemblance to craving for a drug, though the drug 
was an ideal. 

So long as she remained in Paris, I could disguise from 
myself the fact that the usual end was on the way to me. 
When she left for America, I had nothing. The trade 
which I had learned, the Bilbao office, the flat were all in 
ruins. I was twenty-eight. Where the devil did one start 
again and how? 

I am now entitled to have the young man up for judge- 
ment, since I am just double his age. But what sermon to 
preach at him I do not know. Such obstinate purpose, such 
concentration on a single objective is generally thought 
laudable when the ambition is political or financial, and 
foolish when it is a woman. I doubt if there is much to 


choose between them. In both cases you force yourself to 
travel through the summer fields of life in a train with the 
blinds down. Failure to attain your love will give you far 
more misery than to be suspended from dealings on the 
stock exchange or passed over for a parliamentary under- 
secretaryship. On the other hand the lover may spread his 
interests as the careerist dare not; his window blinds are 
continually jumping up. 

They began to jump at random, though the train still 
raced along its single track to the horizon. Marina's circle 
in Paris intersected with that of literary and artistic frauds 
who concealed their inability to think by taking in vain 
the names of Joyce, Stein, D. H. Lawrence and such 
obscure psychologists as had built improbable worlds of 
their own upon the enthusiastic misunderstanding of 
Freud and Jung. My visits were seldom long enough for 
me to be personally involved. I got the various gospels 
second-hand. But to this day I dislike to be called creative. 
Those international plagiarists bandied the word creation 
about, while approaching it no nearer than rest on the 
seventh day. 

Some small part of this invective may have escaped me 
at the time, for Marina's attitude was that if I found them 
shallow I could go and do better myself. A literary life had 
never even occurred to me as a possibility. When I went 
down from Oxford I had not for a moment considered 
journalism or letters as a profession, and I had never tried 
to write for publication. 

It seems to me odd that I should have unhesitatingly 
assumed that Marina knew what she was talking about. But 
I acknowledged her to be well read — which I was not — in 
everything of importance published since about 191 2 ; and, 
after all, she had some evidence on which to judge. She 
had been reading Geoffrey Household every week for 
three and a half years. 


So when my plans for Bilbao and matrimony went up 
in smoke — a more intangible smoke than usual — I kept 
myself from a depression which might have verged on the 
dangerous by deciding to become a writer. I had no sense 
of conviction, not even any particular wish for the trade ; 
but I saw that it stopped her last escape route. If I could 
travel and live wherever she liked, that was the end of 

Back in that damned violet room I set to work. I had 
no doubt that my stuff was good — it had every amateur 
fault, but the illusion was protective — and yet grave doubts 
whether it would sell. I was right to be cautious. Nothing 
that I did then and for years to come had any effect on 
my final choice of profession. This beginning was a mere 
unfortunate flash in the pan. For that reason I dismiss it 
here. It does not belong to my third life as a conscientious 

I had no intention of cutting loose from commerce until 
I knew I could eat, but fate and my own impatience 
played me an uncommonly shabby trick. In the late spring 
of 1929 I sent to Marina a bundle of short stories. Through 
a journalist who was one of her lame ducks she submitted 
them for an opinion to Brandt & Brandt, the New York 
literary agents — then quite unknown to me and now my 
dear friends and providers. Through some misunderstand- 
ing (the journalist was seldom sober) I learned that 
Brandts liked them and could sell them — a most improb- 
able claim for any agent to make, but how should I know 
it? That was good enough. I resigned from Fyffes. A 
fortnight later I heard that Brandts had no interest in such 
raw work whatever. 

There were but two sources of comfort : that the vast 
majority of my fellow men was accustomed to insecurity, 
and that my father, who had the innocent heart of a 
romanticist, seemed to think I had done something sensible. 


He felt, I suppose, that I should waste less of my potentiali- 
ties in literature than in bananas. He was quite wrong. I 
was far more likely to be a success in commerce. 

I sold up the flat and went to live at a cheap pension in 
Bilbao, where my room was large and clean, and the 
society a joy after too many lonely evenings in Algorta. 
I was shocked to discover that for three years I had been 
living at twice the cost which was really necessary — 
though it is likely that only in the last year had my tastes 
broadened enough for me to enjoy the experiment. 

About a dozen of us dined at a long table enlivened, 
once the carafes had circulated, by exchanges between 
a republican journalist and a secret policeman of the 
monarchy. That was the only occasion when I have seen 
Spaniards of fierce left and right opinions on terms of 
private friendship. It may have been because neither had 
any religion worth mentioning, or because they permitted 
themselves to be far ruder to each other than normal 
manners allowed. You cannot, after all, wish to shoot a 
man when you have been swearing every evening for 
years that you intend to. 

During my round of good-bye visits a very typical 
Spanish characteristic appeared, which accounts for their 
attachment to the cacique or dictator in spite of a natural 
leaning towards irony and anarchism : the dog- like loyalty 
to any intelligent man whose ways have interested them. 
Their sense of deprivation went far beyond anything to 
be expected from mere mutual affection. They would give 
up bananas. They were alarmed. They had no trust. They 
would never be able to work with any other Englishman. 
All temperament, of course — but how I share it! I, too, 
attach myself to individuals. On the departure of a boss 
or a commanding officer or any close associate whom I 
like, I feel that the known world has come to an end and 
that all is insecurity. 


The 700-ton iron-ore steamer, upon which some friend 
had given me a free passage, sailed north out of the mouth 
of the Nervion, and I suffered a little death as the green 
coast and the low, brown cliffs and the red gables of the 
Basque villages turned all to grey in the distant summer 
haze. That love for northern Spain, of which, while I was 
there, I doubt if I was fully conscious, broke surface, 
not in any exaggerated access of emotion but with a clarity 
of vision in which every ingredient of bitter regret was 
itemised. Is it general that those who can love greatly are 
so often deprived by not knowing that they do? Or is it, 
as I suspect, a particular curse laid upon the Engish? 

Restlessly I stayed two or three weeks with my parents. 
My plan, so far as I had one, was to join Marina in Los 
Angeles and see whether the Hollywood studios, which 
had just turned from the silent to the talking picture, could 
provide a living. Since I had no notion how to sell myself 
nor indeed anything tangible to sell, it was the worst place 
I could have chosen. On the other hand I did not depend 
on anything so vague as proving my ability. I carried a 
powerful letter of introduction to a producer from the 
banker who was financing him. 

My assets were about two hundred pounds, and a free 
passage to Colon at the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal 
which I asked Elders & Fyffes to provide instead of the 
small sum due to me from the pension fund. I am sure I 
could have had both, but my conscience was too guilty to 
beg for favours. 

I might have reached California more cheaply, but I 
am glad I did not. To an open and romantic mind the 
excitement of a first ocean voyage in warm waters is 
unforgettable. The North Atlantic does not count. One 
is gently bilious from the whale-way wallowings of the 


liner, and that is that. But the passenger on a ship small 
enough to dance to the movement of the sea who meets 
enough bad weather in the first three days to acquire his 
sea legs may then swoop along the white and deep-blue 
track of the trade winds exhilarated as a gull. And to me, 
who thought myself a traveller, the New World was so 
gloriously new. There was the tropical forest of which I 
had read; and, since it clothed the precipitous slopes of 
uninhabitable little islands, the upper surface of the jungle 
gardened by flowering creepers, that rare and lovely sight, 
displayed its massed domes like dark-green, red-streaked 

It was impossible not to feel a gallant adventurer while 
racing the flying fish to Barbados; but when the ship 
discharged me, and me alone, on to the barren wharf at 
Colon far too early in the day for my liking, though the 
sun which unmercifully fried my diffident flesh against 
the concrete seemed well accustomed to such hours, I felt 
far from a picaresque character. A lost, small boy was a 
nearer parallel, and I knew it. 

Colon impressed me as the least attractive town I had 
ever seen — and this was not due to depression, for later 
experience convinced me that the Atlantic ports of Central 
America are, none of them, places in which to linger. The 
shipping agents knew nothing of boats to Los Angeles, 
telling me I should enquire in Panama. 

Taken aback by the discovery, a little too late, that 
tropical rain has the volume of a bathroom shower, I 
splashed on to a train for Panama City, put up at the 
Hotel Europa and restored equanimity with Planter's 
Punch. A world in which so delectable a drink existed, as 
well as the thirst necessary to deal with two successive 
pints of it, could not be wholly bad. In the evening I set 
out to inspect North American civilisation. 


I always wish that my first contact with it had not been 
at Panama. The full essence of Americanism in the Canal 
Zone is too overwhelming a contrast to the Spanish- 
American city. And that is a violent way to taste a new 
country. You might as well get your first impression of the 
British from the Gezireh Club in Cairo. 

Clean, self-consciously bright, admirably ordered for 
the consumption of ice-cream in friendly surroundings — 
that was my melancholy impression. The result to this day 
is that when I think of the United States, its aspect as a 
respectable middle-class holiday camp dominates all others. 
And that is unfair. If I had entered by New York, I should 
have found the stronger living and coarser laughter to 
which I was accustomed translated across the Atlantic 
into a city of exquisite beauty, with green and peaceful 
farming country easily to be reached at need. But 
there it is. My emotions insist that every American lives 
in a well-ordered suburb, whereas statistics, let alone 
observation, prove he does nothing of the sort. I am closer, 
perhaps, to a spiritual truth — for it is undeniable that the 
nearer any foreign community approaches the ideal of a 
garden city run by a council of advertising managers, the 
more Americans are at home in it. 

My journey and education were continued by a Japanese 
cargo vessel holding a dozen passengers in reasonable com- 
fort. I was intrigued by the tact and persistence with 
which my steward overworked his inadequate English to 
find out why I had spent the first night on deck. The 
reason was simple. Ants were wandering about my pillow. 
I can endure fleas, bugs and cockroaches — since they share 
a familiar domesticity — and almost anything that has 
wings, but I intensely dislike the crawlers-in from the 
wild. The steward, however, suspected that I had deserted 
my cabin because I was sharing it with a Japanese ; yet 


would have laid open his belly rather than ask if his guess, 
humiliating to both of us, were true. 

So there we were — the East suspecting the West of 
haughty empire-building, and the West indeed so far guilty 
of it as to refuse to admit in the presence of the East that it 
was afraid of a few small red ants. His relief, when I at last 
confessed their presence, was delightful ; so was the imme- 
diacy with which a force of little men descended upon that 
cabin, stripped it to its white-painted bones, and re-created 
it in half an hour. 

San Pedro waterside was as depressing as Colon had 
been — the more so since a wireless message had miscarried 
and Marina was not there to meet me. Reunited with her 
later in the day, I discovered that her pleasure in seeing 
me was swamped by horror at my rashness. I was inclined 
to agree. It seemed extremely difficult to get a drink in 
Southern California. 

Alien, too, were other aspects of the civilisation. 
Next door to her flat was a marvellous conceit of 
architecture, representing a miniature Mexican ranch- 
house complete with imitation well, and upon the coping 
of the well sat, pretty obviously posed, a girl of artistically 
Latinised but genuine beauty to whom I was careful to 
pay little attention. After nightfall the girl's sister drove 
Marina and myself up the Hollywood Hills and then 
descended the hair-pin bends at fifty miles an hour with 
no lights on. I have often wondered whether it was her 
normal method of driving, or whether she herself was in 
love with Marina, consumed by jealousy and desperate at 
my insensitive reaction to pussy on the well. 

I presented my letter to the producer who was melancholy 
and polite as some small rajah touching impossible 
orders to his forehead. He informed me at once that 
Hollywood needed the assistance of 'gentlemen.' I do 
not think he was being ironical. It was the heart- felt 


cry of one continually frustrated. Yet he must have known 
that if Hollywood started to indulge the over-developed 
modesty and the over-cautious taste of the English upper 
middle class, the only result would be no pictures at all. 

While I was waiting for undeserved fortune to fall into 
my lap, Marina, bewildered, fled to New York. I stayed 
on for a week or two until it became obvious that there was 
no immediate use for 'gentlemen' even when as synthetic 
as I, and that producers were not so obedient to finance as 
I had expected. Indeed, I was reminded of that frequent 
fate of eighteenth-century writers: to wait in the patron's 
anteroom until turned away by a footman. My sympathy 
had always been with the patron, and it still was. 

So I followed Marina to New York, making a consider- 
able hole in my remaining capital. I neither liked nor 
disliked the city. I simply could not get on terms with it at 
all — and how to extract a living from an unwilling world 
had been left out of my education altogether. A very 
proper omission in any university. I take it that a man who 
had passed high out of Harvard or Yale and gone straight 
into business would be as inexperienced as I, though the 
tradition behind him would be more helpful. 

Meanwhile I had actually sold two short stories in 
England. I looked at my own printed work with dismay 
and astonishment, as if I had bound myself into slavery for 
ten guineas. However, I could now describe myself as a 
writer with truth in my voice rather than apology, and 
show my two tales as if they were mere samples of a 
hundred others. Slowly I was learning the American 

Not that it was to do much good to me, or to many 
thousands of native Americans, for the stock market 
crashed and the first wave of the Depression arrived. By the 
end of October 1929 my money had run out. Manual 
labour, if I could get any, looked the only possibility. But 


I hung on. Nobody — for an almost wartime kindness was 
general — wrote me a rude letter demanding the rent of my 
two rooms in Greenwich Village, and I found (believing 
my past propaganda) that a diet of bananas and biscuits 
was adequate though leading to comic prodigies of flatu- 
lence. There was, in my private life, little else to laugh 

It was suggested to me that there might be a pittance of 
some sort to be obtained from Funk & Wagnall's Diction- 
ary. There was not. But Vizetelly, receiving me with a 
shaggy, donnish courtesy which made the exile homesick, 
told me of a children's encyclopedia which needed writers 
to prepare the articles. 

I went to see the editor and delighted him with my 
sample articles on the set subjects. The formula was simple. 
You looked up the facts in an adult encyclopedia and 
rewrote them — being careful to avoid plagiarism — in the 
plainest English, opening with a sentence which would 
catch the interest or arouse the curiosity of a child. 

Month after month I turned out some fifty thousand 
words of this stuff, and earned my five hundred dollars. 
This was enough to give me a comfortable life, for in 1930 
the cost of living in New York was by no means high. I 
formed a useful collection of Italian speak-easies with cook- 
ing too palatable and cleanliness too perfunctory to attract 
much non-Latin custom, where a meal and a half-bottle 
of drinkable wine cost a dollar and a quarter. 

In the spring of 1930 I became a sub-editor in charge 
of the rewriting. Rewriting was very necessary. The editor, 
a weak, harassed and lovable little man, had been driven 
by his employer to commission and pay for half a million 
words a month of whatever quality. The poor employer 
could not help it; he had planned his encyclopedia before 
the depression, and now was in the hands of his bank, his 
printers and anyone who would lend him anything on the 


security of his face. Fortunately for us all it was an honest 

But the result of his unavoidable impatience was that 
three-quarters of the material accepted was unpublishable 
and had to be rewritten in the office. The style we wanted 
should have been easy. It was not. The professional hacks 
were utterly unable to write simply. Newspaper training 
was largely responsible. The reporter has not the time to 
achieve absolute clarity. His stock-in-trade is vivid descrip- 
tion in colloquial English — and colloquial English, when 
read for exact meaning, is very far from clear. 

Having achieved a measure of respectability, I took a 
pleasant room in a brown-stone house of the East Fifties, 
and even moved a little in literary society. I was at last on 
terms with the alien culture and beginning to enjoy it. Any 
reasonable man can satisfy all his tastes and all his indi- 
viduality in New York. My civil status was doubtful, for I 
had come to the United States on a tourist visa. The 
immigration authorities, however, were most lenient. 
When they would not extend my visa any longer, they 
merely told me to go, and to write to them from abroad 
that I had gone. I am always doubtful whether this was a 
humanely bureaucratic formula, or whether they did in 
fact put such innocent trust in a postmark. 

Marina had long since returned to Los Angeles, and 
there her resistance at last collapsed. Why, only she could 
tell. Security I had none. My fidelity was not standing up 
very well under the delightful strains and stresses of 
New York. And she knew my tastes and prejudices too 
thoroughly to believe that a home in the United States 
was likely to be permanent. It may have been that either 
the irresistible force or the immovable object had to give 
way, and she preferred the latter. 

The irresistible force, however, had burned out. I knew 
it, but I did not admit it. Still overwhelmingly fond of her, 


I was. Still in love with her, I was not. I cannot altogether 
blame myself for refusing to face the ironical ending which 
the weariness of the years had forced upon the fairy-tale. 
We are far too conditioned by what we read, and when in 
life we come to a last page, we cannot resist the temptation 
to put on the conventional ending. The swineherd should 
have ridden off, fearful with doubt and regret, but coldly 
imagining that his destined princess might be still in the 
nursery — as indeed she was. 

Immediately after our marriage I became a lame duck 
in good earnest. Without warning I was sacked. The 
reason was complex. Sub-editing had now advanced 
to the point where I was bound to recognise a hand- 
writing, and could have questioned why work was being 
paid for twice — though in fact the minor racket w r ould 
never have occurred to me. Later on, after some miserable 
months, I was called back by a new editor until all the 
sources of capital ran out and rewriting stopped. 

Though I claim it myself, that encyclopedia down to the 
letter M — at which point the unfortunate publisher had 
to sacrifice his last dregs of idealism and send the rest of 
the material to the printer in its virgin state — was the best 
which has ever been produced for children in England or 

Two years passed. I will not make the weary effort to 
reconstruct all the movements of Marina and myself 
between Los Angeles and New York. In the former I 
mostly lived on her; in the latter I may have barely sup- 
ported her. A memory of incompetence and dejection 
remains. There were, of course, plenty of entertaining inter- 
ludes, for she was always fun — if I did not spoil it — and her 
whole character was lit by courage and loyalty. She had 
as well a genius for friendship, even if her friends often 
seemed to me psychologically restless. Her human sym- 
pathy was so great that they were compelled to tell her 


whatever was wrong with them, and skeletons would begin 
to rattle within half an hour of the first cocktail. Had they 
remained decently in their cupboards, social intercourse 
would have been more to my English taste. On the other 
hand, when I want to go to the help of a friend through his 
Slough of Despond, the way is still marked by the posts put 
in by Marina and, I suppose, by her father whom I never 

By and large, through odd jobs of nursing work that she 
took and my very occasional free-lance successes, we man- 
aged to eat and pay the bootlegger, a charming Italian and 
dear friend who grew his own grapes and made his own 
white wine and brandy in spite of prohibition. And one of 
our furnished houses I cannot look back on with anything 
but pleasure. It was at the end of a valley in the Hollywood 
Hills beneath and hidden from the roads which terraced 
the escarpment. Though ringed by Tudor or Mexican 
bungalows and their stream of automobiles, the valley was 
much as it had always been, except for an old bee-keeper 
and his shack, and into it I could vanish. 

I was now able to pose as an authority on juvenile 
literature — a most original authority for I could actually 
produce the stuff myself. A sample play brought me a small 
contract from Columbia Broadcasting to write for their 
educational service, and in the autumn of 1932 they 
ordered some thirty dramatisations of the lives of historical 
characters to which the schools of the entire nation would 
listen, provided teacher could forgo, for a quarter of 
an hour, the sound of his or her own voice. 

This was a godsend. I could write the infernal things in 
London, and do my best meanwhile to get back into 
business. A perverted decision it may seem, since I was 
obviously approaching the hotter and more profitable 
regions in the hell of hack writing. But never for an instant 
did I think it more than a wearing and useless way of earn- 


ing a living, or consider, even in rare moments of self- 
esteem, that I was any sort of author. I had proved myself 
debrouillard and that was all. 

I took passage on a Norwegian freighter which was 
sailing direct from Los Angeles to London. To my relief 
nobody checked my passport — which, besides being out of 
date and invalid, showed that I had no right whatever to 
be in the United States. I went on board with a cheerful- 
ness which, while hardly fair to Marina, at least enabled 
me to understand her flights from Europe. 

It was a voyage of solid discomfort. The food was of 
hard and mysterious substances which no doubt would be 
edible in an Arctic farmhouse at the end of winter. For 
the first twelve days, until a launch came alongside in the 
Panama Canal and transhipped its precious cargo, we 
were out of liquor. Meanwhile the captain had fallen in 
love with his only other passenger — a young woman of 
sloppy good looks and spectacular inanity — and his efforts 
to avoid a hurricane which continually threatened and 
never quite caught us were un-Nordically agitated. 

Except in drink, when he put on a hearty Viking frank- 
ness and quarrelled with his mate or his young woman or 
both, that man was like a sullen and innocent schoolboy. 
When in the fifth week of the voyage his passenger retired 
in some agitation to her cabin for three days, I was quite 
unable to persuade him that appendicitis was unlikely or 
to prevent him filling the air with appeals for medical 

The skimmings across the blue Caribbean three years 
before had been youthful, but that interminable voyage 
was adult. It had its moments of grandeur and none of 
enchantment — except when near Mona Passage I saw the 
full circle of the rainbow, ending, as it must, in the sea at 
my feet and giving the impression that it was only some 
hundreds of yards in diameter. The immense colourless 


swell on the edge of the hurricane heaved us day after 
day towards a sulphur-yellow sky which seemed prepared 
for the overwhelming of Gomorrahs ; and in a gale off the 
Azores Leviathan at his most magnificent shared the same 
trough of the sea and sounded so that seventy perpendicular 
feet of him stood for an instant like a black tower built on 
unknown solidity. In that lashed world where one was 
protected from grey death only by the rail of the ship he 
was indeed Job's tremendous symbol of the adjustment of 
life to its environment. 

I settled into rooms in London and set to work on the 
broadcasting contract which I blessed and cursed alter- 
nately. The long voyage had left me with no time to spare. 
On Mondays and Tuesdays I would read up the character 
I had to dramatise, foreseeing a fairly easy task if his life 
involved drums and trumpets and desperate difficulty if he 
were merely one of those Good Influences upon the World 
beloved by educators. On Wednesday I would look 
through my notes and decide that the job could not be 
done at all; on Thursday and Friday I would do it — just 
in time to catch the mail at the General Post Office in 
St Martin's and nowhere else. 

Since Saturdays and Sundays were essential for recupera- 
tion, this schedule did not leave me much liberty. It was 
only in the early spring of 1933, when I had delivered the 
last play, that I could concentrate on the more genial task 
of getting myself back into commerce. Eleven years were 
too long an exile from London, and friends who might 
have helped were scattered. In any case I was far too 
proud to explain to anyone — in my own country — how 
desperate my situation would be if nothing turned up by 
the summer. There was good reason for diffidence. If I 
were asked why I had pushed away the ladder of a career 
and to what my life was clinging, the reply must involve 
far too many intangibles to be convincing. 


I answered advertisements and myself advertised. I paid 
a large fee to an employment agency for supplying me with 
a circular letter and a long list of firms to which to send 
it. The letter was cunningly planned to show my value to 
any exporter, but the language was so weak and long- 
winded that I had to do a lot of tactful editing. The 
agency boss was startled by this concise expression of his 
ingenuities, and I could watch him hesitating whether or 
not to offer me two quid a week to draft the office 

Nothing came of it all. England was full of men with 
qualifications as good as my own who were out of work. 
In a bad business depression it is the more adventurous 
citizens who have to suffer; nor can they complain, since 
they willingly accepted insecurity for the sake of travel or 
quick profit. As rolling stones, they are bound to be hit by 
the rule of Last in, First out. 

In London I felt lonely and declasse, but it was a joy to 
rediscover my own country on foot. The best of these 
ecstatic walks led me over the Wiltshire and Dorset downs 
to Exmouth where my parents were staying. One night, 
footsore after twenty-eight miles, I tried to get a bed in 
Piddletrenthide, but it was the Whitsun week-end and the 
pubs were full. In the bar a pleasant fellow of about my 
own age pressed me to share his cottage room with the 
insouciance and courtesy of eighteenth-century road- 
travelling. He turned out to be the leading man in a 
fit-up theatrical company which was touring the villages, 
and next day he and the proprietor invited me to join 
them. If I had not been a married man I think I would 
have done so. 

Conjecture toys delightfully with what my destiny might 
have been. At Bucharest I did once play the juvenile lead 
in a melodrama organised for charity by the Anglo- 
American colony, and before the King and Queen of 


Roumania too. But only the royal sense of duty can have 
kept them in their box, and the throats of even my closest 
friends dried while they politely endeavoured to con- 
gratulate me. Never, I feel sure, could I have become an 
actor, but I might have sent for my typewriter and 
improved the fit-up's acting version of Sweeney Tod and 
Maria Marten. 

Refreshed by exercise and inspired by the beginnings of 
panic, I composed a really effective advertisement for the 
Appointments Wanted column of The Times. After giving 
my education and languages, I described myself as an 
Englishman with no national prejudices.' 

I was asked to call at the advertisement office. A senior 
clerk much resembling Strube's Little Man, with the same 
straggly moustache and a stiff shirt, extracted himself 
from a bay of mahogany — the office suggests a saloon bar 
which has run out of drink and is in the hands of a very 
respectable firm of accountants — and examined me nerv- 
ously. Did I not think, he asked, that my advertisement 
might be open to misunderstanding? I thought nothing of 
the kind, and condescended haughtily to explain why. 

It was only years later, when experience as a security 
officer had worn away the last of my innocence, that I 
perceived what had bothered the senior clerk. Though 
British fascists were still considered comic and communists 
impractical dreamers, the era of treachery was beginning. 
A lack of national prejudice might imply an equal lack of 
loyalty. Such a reading was in fact vaguely justified, for 
among those who answered my advertisement was a highly 
intelligent Hindu with whom, in an obscure office, I talked 
for half an hour without ever discovering what he wanted. 
At the time I assumed that his reticence merely covered 
doubt as to whether I would willingly sell drugs and 
pornography, or whether I should inform the police. But 


he did not strike me as a man likely to be engaged in 
either traffic. 

My 'no national prejudices' meant that I was prepared, 
unlike the majority of our brusque foreign representa- 
tives, to treat with anything on two legs as easily and 
courteously as Spain had dealt with me. And that, no 
more and no less, was understood by Percy Squire, the 
chairman of John Kidd & Co., manufacturers of printing 
ink. He was a dear, bad-tempered old autocrat who did 
just what he pleased with the firm — on the whole doing 
it very well — and had built up a useful export business 
by his own personal travels in years past. 

He sent for me to Wine Office Court and explained 
what he wanted. Printing in Europe and the Middle East 
was often a Jewish trade. Germany was the chief exporter 
of printing ink. The Jewish boycott of German goods was 
far from absolute, but at least offered new opportunities. 
I was to go out and grab them. If I could not, I was to 
explain why. I was to live in good second-class hotels and 
not stick him with damned great bills as if I were selling 
coal, steel or ships. I was to get on with it before his British 
competitors woke up. 

If I had been asked to choose my job, it would have 
been something very close to that. True, it offered little 
immediate hope of domestic life, but Marina and I were 
accustomed to this strange marriage which carried on the 
continual partings of early days. And in any case I could 
reasonably dream, if things went well, of opening a branch 
factory abroad. 

I spent three weeks between Wine Office Court and the 
factory in Old Ford, learning how inks were made and — 
far more important — enough of papers and printing pro- 
cesses to be able to talk to a customer for five minutes with- 


out giving away my complete ignorance. Fairly straight- 
forward were the selling and shipping, the prices and 
qualities, the characters of existing agents, the tastes of 
their chief customers; and made still simpler by the close 
and affectionate relationship which developed between 
Reg Green, the export manager, and myself. 

In July 1933 I started out through Scandinavia and the 
Baltic States. I have seldom in my life been so consciously 
happy. To be completely fulfilled as a commercial traveller 
for a small firm which was frankly doubtful if it could 
afford such a luxury certainly argues a lack of ambition ; 
but in my youth I never possessed much, and disappointment 
had trained me to limit the little I did have to the imme- 
diate future. That in itself was an aid to enjoyment. 

One cause for excitement may have been the anticipa- 
tion of curious kitchens and irresponsible adulteries, but 
the other ingredients of my content need not be so cruelly 
analysed ; they merged together into one glorious whole of 
delight which was reflective quite as much as it was sensual. 
I was free of the Europe which I so greatly loved. My 
salary was eight hundred a year, and no government could 
steal a penny of it in return for services I did not want. 
Much of it Marina and I were able to save, for I could 
make my expenses — though I seldom charged John Kidd 
more than a pound a day — cover everything except 
evening amusements and extravagant explorations of wine 

For the first time in years I was unconscious of any 
anxiety or nervous strain. In fact there must have been 
some, since my first trip for John Kidd still turns up in 
mild nightmares. I find myself wandering about Europe 
from capital to capital, selling nothing and vaguely wonder- 
ing why I have not sent any report to the office. At the 
time, no doubt, I hid from myself an inquietude that I was 
not producing enough new business to pay my salary. 


But all the early part of that first trip was and had to be 
exploratory. Scandinavia, the little Baltic States, Belgium 
and Austria were too close to the German frontiers, and 
the habits of their printers had been formed by German 
manufacturers. We offered too high a quality at too high a 
price. It was competitive, since a printer uses less of a good 
than of an inferior ink, but we expected the buyer to 
change his customs instead of changing our own. 

It was a conservatism typical of the British exporter. Yet 
I think John Kidd kept it within reasonable bounds. They 
could not be expected to put much faith in the early 
reports of an inexperienced representative. Later on, when 
the little sample tins of blacks and colours which I posted 
home began to tell the same story in the laboratory as my 
reports on the managerial desk, they lowered their stan- 
dards of what a printer ought to use and gave him what 
he did. 

The routine of the pioneering was simple — once a local 
agent of sound financial standing had been caught. That 
was my first duty. Agents recommended by consuls and 
commercial attaches were generally too large and shiny, 
not of a type to visit printers bag in hand, and do business, 
continually interrupted, in a glass-fronted cubby-hole 
among the thud and rattle of the machines. It usually took 
some days of visiting paper merchants and printers' sup- 
pliers before I found a man who was willing to invest his 
money and energy in the marketing of British inks. When 
I had him, we would go round the printers together from 
nine till six, and occasionally amuse ourselves in town 

I do not think John Kidd ever had cause to regret my 
choice of an agent — except perhaps in one case where they 
extended very humanely and on their own responsibility a 
quite alarming line of credit. I must have learned in 
Roumania more than I suspected. I should not pretend to 


any keener insight than my fellows, but when a man has 
started his career among businessmen with no ethical sense 
whatever he is inoculated against undue optimism. 

It was not until I reached the shores of the Mediter- 
ranean that I really began to sell — partly because I was 
farther away from the German factories and their ubiqui- 
tous travellers, partly through those of my own qualities 
which blossom in the sun. An Englishman in northern 
Europe is expected to be true to type, so that an insular, 
honest and — to my mind — somewhat bluff north-country- 
man will lose no business through lack of manners; but in 
southern Europe the Latinised Englishman, accepting 
unhurriedly the local courtesies and conventions, comes 
into his kingdom. Success in Greece and Italy, Spain and 
Portugal reassured me, showing that I really had that 
character with which during the weary years in America 
I had — for want of anything better — credited myself. 

It seemed to me that I had left Spain not a mere three 
and a half years earlier, but ten. There were they all, in 
Barcelona and Madrid, still selling bananas. And why not, 
indeed? I myself on my return from America had tried, 
very unconvincingly and with the sense of failure insepar- 
able from retracing a path, to get back into Elders & Fyffes. 
The task of my former colleagues was not so genially 
expansive as it had been. During the depression every 
nation with a tropical colony had planted its own bananas 
and saved foreign exchange. 

When the two capital cities had been well stocked with 
Kidd's inks, I was free to revisit the Basque Provinces. For 
most of the pious journey I stayed awake, eager not to miss 
the call of the porters and the hushed bustle around the 
sleeping-cars as the train stopped at Medina del Campo 
and Burgos and Miranda de Ebro — junctions where, on 
my return from Asturias or after explorations of the mar- 
kets of Old Castille, I would wait in the station restaurant, 


darkened but still alive, for the heavy express to come 
wailing across the Spanish plateau and carry me back to 
Bilbao and the sea. 

In the north, though big printers were few and there 
were no Jews to boycott German goods, it was a point of 
honour to me that I should sell. Bernardino Garay in 
Bilbao and Macario Sanz in San Sebastian saw to it that 
I did — and also ensured that there should be no conscien- 
tious necessity to rise and do business at nine, since we 
were frequently very much awake till four. Printers? Were 
they not fellow members of the Chamber of Commerce? 
First, we would get them interested and then we would dis- 
cover an agent whom they liked. It was an inversion of the 
usual routine and it worked. I appointed a charming little 
anti-Nazi German who, settled domestically in a fishing 
village and doing a quiet trade in small machines, was 
somewhat taken aback by a be-Spanished Englishman, far 
noisier than life, hurling business into his lap. 

It was a pleasant interlude. Too seldom does fate allow 
the homeless so to wheel about his mulberry bush that he 
returns into the heart of friends. Yet my regret that I had 
ever left the North of Spain was not so poignant as in 
America. Biscay, I knew, was still a country where I could 
live happily and where my eyes would be delighted 
by roof and village and green downs as freshly and con- 
tinuously as in England. But to live there permanently? 
To surrender, like my new German agent, to its sturdy 
charm? I was greedy for more world — not yet, perhaps, for 
more object — before I settled my spiritual relationship to 
the map or my plain place in it. How I squared that 
restlessness with my longing for a branch factory and a 
suburban flat I do not know. The contradiction is one of 
the curses which lie heavy upon the man without a trade. 
He can only guess at what will satisfy him. 

For some weeks in the middle of that first tour Marina 


had been with me. She joined me in Brussels and we went 
on to Vienna together, where we recaptured a shadow of 
our old Parisian freedom. She had an awareness of enjoy- 
ment, when she was enjoying, as keen as my own, and a 
sense of humour which revelled in the rabelaisian as well 
as in those delicacies of feminine insight which can find 
and smile at butterflies in a winter room. 

So on to Greece; and fresh to both far travellers were 
the ivory and white of Athens, the ivory and blue of the 
Gulf of Corinth seen from the hills above Patras. I do not 
know which of us surrendered to the clear divinities more 
absolutely, she for whom classical culture was an affecta- 
tion or I who peopled every stone which was joined to 
another with the high voices of the dead. Nor did it 
matter, for the tangible realities of Greece remain un- 
changed. When you sit upon the quay at Eleusis eating 
cockles from the dripping hand of the fisherman, that 
dawn-of-the-world taste is no less sweet to the postulant 
than to the initiate. 

But London intruded upon Athens. Percy Squire in one 
of his incalculable moods of savagery — entirely harmless if 
you were in the office below his, and could march upstairs 
and bully him back — suggested that if the business I had 
done was all I was likely to do I could not look forward to 
any steady future. That frightened Marina, and she took 
the usual boat to New York. It was a hasty, but not a 
selfish removal, for all she wanted was to take responsi- 
bility off my shoulders. She could always earn her own 
living in California. 

Too soon. Too eager. A month later, when Mediter- 
ranean sales had made their impact, I was again highly 
popular in London. But Marina and I were creatures of 
our generation, of those 'twenties and 'thirties when the 
emancipated determined that the chains of marriage 
should sit lightly on each other. With such a view, it is 


sheer folly to enter the contract at all. The chain itself, the 
pride in being bound, is the very heaven of marriage; if 
it is not, there is little point in easing it. 

After a quick overhaul in London, my next trip took me 
to the Middle East. Excited by the first fringe of Asia I 
certainly was, but neither geographically nor intellectually 
could a Mediterranean coast be wholly new. My attitude 
was possibly nearer to a Venetian trader's matter-of-fact 
acceptance of differences than to that of the tourist who 
travels to see Arabs as it might be in an exhibition, or that 
of the benevolent officials who take the money at the gate. 

I went first to Palestine, then to the Lebanon and last 
to Egypt. It is difficult to recapture first impressions of the 
Levantine coast when peoples and frontiers, roads and 
mountain villages were all to become so familiar. I thought 
the seaboard from Acre to Tripoli — sparsely decorated 
rather than spoiled by man, his villas and his agriculture — 
the most beautiful I had ever seen. I still do. And close 
contact with French and British administration has not 
much modified the first opinions of a free traveller. 

The impact of French culture upon Arab seemed to me 
wholly delightful, creating a harmonious mixture of two 
ways of daily life, both equally valid for content. The 
impact of British culture was funereal. Yet British adminis- 
tration was sourly admired, and French uninhibitedly 
abused. To me, as to the French officials, that was quite 
inexplicable. They were inclined to ascribe it too readily 
to the intrigues of British agents. 

The true answer is that the British way of life, its 
solemnity, its cups of tea, its women so intolerable in exile, 
its odd insistence that you cannot have both rectitude and 
vitality, was not a threat; it did not and could not per- 
meate Levantine culture. But French influence did, and 
therefore was the more to be feared. To a European there 
could be no conceivable doubt that French-controlled 


Beirut was a more liveable town than, for example, 
British-controlled Port Said. To a race-conscious Arab, 
however, Beirut was an insidious attack upon his traditions. 

I met only one nationalist who from the bottom of his 
heart hated my country — though he bought my inks — and 
did not disguise it. He was an Egyptian newspaper pro- 
prietor, and I found it hard to take his opinions seriously. 
The Egyptian habit of dressing in cotton nightshirts, the 
patterns of which we only use for the covering of mattresses, 
had, I am certain, much to do with my lack of interest. 
One can listen to Arab robe or lounge suit; one can even 
put up with striped trousers and top-hat ; but when a man 
continually brings to mind a morning hotel bedroom, with 
the mattress rolled back, the bedclothes upon a chair and 
the hairpins clicking into the vacuum cleaner, it is impos- 
sible to treat him with a respect which is more than verbal. 
That is a pity, since only the most sincere of nationalists 
could force himself to wear, unnecessarily, Egyptian 
national dress. 

My Arab customers, Christian or Moslem, seemed much 
like southern merchants anywhere else, and as hagglers 
for price no worse than Greeks. With the desert Arab, 
familiar to me from Doughty and Lawrence, I had no 
intercourse at all — beyond, that is, an exchange of looks 
so penetrating that the memory remains with me to this 
day. He was, later knowledge suggests, a notable of the 
Aneyzi, robed and crowned, and he was striding up 
through the Jerusalem bazaar as I was wandering down. 
For a full two seconds he held my eyes with a bold, direct 
look, neither liking nor disliking, but appraising my quali- 
ties as a male animal — my manners, courage, capacity for 
poetry and fecundity. He might have been watching the 
paces of a stallion. To what conclusion he came I shall 
fortunately never know, but it astonished me that there 
were still men who could so examine a stranger without 


discourtesy. In Europe such self-confidence died with the 
seventeenth century. 

In spite of Arab charm, I left Jerusalem an ardent 
Zionist, for no Gentile could know much more than I of 
the miseries of the Pale and the dynamic faith in the 
promise. And there under my eyes was the promise day 
by day gallantly fulfilled. I suppose that, so far as pure 
emotion is concerned, I am still a Zionist, but the impar- 
tiality of the security officer has intervened. Israel for me is 
like a woman whom you understand with a profundity too 
bitter for clear passion. You wish her well. You watch her 
career with fatherly interest. You may even be moved by 
her youth to a momentary splendour of desire. But youth 
alone is not enough for beauty. 

From Alexandria I took a little Greek steamer to Athens 
— more to keep an eye on credits than to sell. The Greek 
Easter overtook me, bowing but not quite breaking my 
exaggerated ideals of commercial politeness. It was neces- 
sary, the agent told me, that I should partake of the pascal 
lamb in the garden of a newspaper manager. I was willing 
enough. At ten-thirty in the morning I lapped my retsina 
— the resinated wine which temporarily destroys the taste 
for all others — in the shade while watching, mouth a- 
water, a spitted sucking lamb roasting in a pit. I ate 

Would I accompany the agent to just one other impor- 
tant customer? Well, I had no objection. Lunch was 
already an impossibility, but a short sleep at my hotel 
would deal with the retsina. At twelve we tasted another 
newspaper lamb; at twelve- thirty, a machine-minder's; at 
one, a lithographer's; at one- thirty, a colour-printer's; 
from two to three we descended to rotogravure and the 
local comics in red and black. Every swallow became 
deliberate; every breaking of wind a gamble with nature. 
Not that I felt sick. The lambs and the wine were far too 


good for so rude a rejection. All was prepared to stay in 
place, but the only way of accommodating each additional 
mouthful was to swallow it floating in retsina like a large 

After five hours of it I took a taxi to the foot of Hymettus, 
climbed to the top and came down in the dark with a 
raging thirst. Such memories confirm that one is but a 
guest in one's own body. Were I — and to me it is the same 
1 — to climb today so mild a mountain with an even 
moderately charged stomach, I should imagine collapse 
with such intensity that I should probably witch-doctor 
myself into dying. 

In the spring of 1934 I was back in Bucharest. Eight 
years had destroyed the last of Ruritania. Taxis had taken 
the place of cabs, and there were but two aged eunuch 
drivers left. Peasant costumes had vanished from the city 
except on Sundays. The dusty streets of white, one-storied 
houses were metalled, and flanked by blocks of flats. The 
Bank alone seemed unchanged, and, for the sake of old 
friendship, presented me with a magnificent agent who, 
even before the boycott, had declared his own private war 
on German trade. Two former chief clerks had become the 
Christian and Jewish managers. I found myself far nearer 
to them in spirit and understanding than I had ever been 
as a gay and unused apprentice. I mourned my gilded 
youth, but I did not regret that it was over. 

The successful tour ended with Warsaw and blue-and- 
white Stockholm. I hoped with no very good reason for 
some months without travel; but July and part of August 
were all I had. Then John Kidd required me to get my 
visas and pack my bags and take that Spanish of which I 
boasted, and had indeed made proof upon their business 
in Spain, to South America. 


I look back with extraordinary content upon the seven 
formative months which followed. I felt at the time that I 
could live the rest of my life in sub-tropical Spanish 
America. Even today when my ways are set and neither 
my Castilian nor my energy is any longer equal to three- 
quarters of the demands on them which I should wish to 
make, I would not complain if some eccentric fate com- 
pelled me to settle my family there. 

Why should this be so? What was the secret of that sure 
attraction in a mere salesman's unadventurous round of 
the coast? The old Adam can be left out immediately. No 
one would exchange the variety of enjoyment which 
Europe offers to body and mind for the highly specialised 
pleasures of Spanish America; nor am I looking back 
nostalgically upon the beauty of the women, which again 
is a specialised perfection. In any case the object of 
my sole attack of infantile pink tou-touism was half English 
and half North American with nothing Latin in her except 
that she had been born in Lima and spoke beautiful 

Landscape, then? One could, I think, fall deeply in love 
with the little towns of Central America, high up in the 
long, green valleys between spectacular and unaggressive 
volcanoes; but unless a man were fortunate enough to be 
born in the highlands of Guatemala or Costa Rica, he 
would not go out of his way to choose them. Mexico, Chile 
and the altiplano of Ecuador attract me, yet for my taste 
they are not to be compared with Wessex or the Valley of 
the Loire or the coast between Bilbao and Oviedo. In fact 
I am no great lover of immensity of landscape, and to my 
eighteenth-century mind the horrid mountains bristle 
unnecessarily upon a pleasantly rolling earth. While I love 
to read of those who climb them, as of those who shoot 
elephants, I have not the slightest wish to compete. I am 
prepared to marvel at their conquests from Alpine and 


Andean restaurants or from a safe seat in the zoo, but 
marvel is enough. 

There is left only the South American attitude to life. It 
must be that which fascinates me, and it must be closely 
related to my own or to a romantic illusion I have of my 
own. It is a mixture of nobility and brutality — and by that 
I do not mean cruelty. I mean a quality which in youth 
tends to prefer the coarse flavour for its own sake, and in 
middle age at least refrains from shrinking. It is the utterly 
uncloistered virtue to which nothing human is alien pro- 
vided it has power and individuality, and it seems to me 
more common in the Spanish Americas than anywhere 
else. Add to this import from Spain an easy gaiety and a 
cosmopolitanism which the mother country lacks ; impress 
it upon every immigrant, British, German or Italian; and 
you have South America. 

I leave out, quite arbitrarily, Brazil, though that was the 
first republic where my catalogues and I were welcomed. 
The Portuguese spirit is discordant with the Spanish, and 
a temperament which is in tune with one will not readily 
respond to the other. For most Englishmen Portugal should 
be the easier host, since it is an Atlantic country, conserva- 
tive, tolerant in manners and darkly emerald as Cornwall. 
In both the people and their home there is a softness of 
outline; and, for myself, I miss the bitter and glowing 
virility of Spain. The two cultures are different as red gold 
and platinum. One is as fitted as the other to the finger of 
the Peninsula, or to marry through all impediments 
Atlantic and Pacific; but though the reflections of the 
grey perhaps be subtler I prefer the superb tradition of the 

Neither the roaring life of Rio de Janeiro nor the 
European solidity of Sao Paulo attracted me, but in 
Spanish-speaking Buenos Aires I was immediately at 
home. There I appointed an Anglo-Argentine agent, and 


first came in contact with that contribution of my own 
country to Latin America which is more valuable than 
capital or railways. The adventurers in the sub-continent 
have always been the flower of our emigrants, rejecting 
the deceptive ease of a common language for the sake of a 
way of living which they loved. The permanent resident 
of British ancestry, whether or not he has retained his 
passport, is very much a man. 

My agent I might have met in Europe, but not his 
father. He was eighty years old and had lived most of his 
life in the mountain forests of the far north-west. He 
painted the country vividly in words for me, and had, 
though quite untrained, painted it on canvas after canvas 
in a style of such marked individuality — something of 
Blake and something of Douanier Rousseau — that he was 
far nearer genius than amateur. 

In the fascination which Latin America holds for me the 
presence of such observers also counts. I like to be near a 
frontier of the imagination, though I myself have no 
desire to be a frontiersman. Not for me are the handful of 
rice and what the worms have left in a banana skin; but to 
meet the men for whom such a diet was sufficient and to 
understand why it was, to feel that I myself may be the 
collecting point of memories and that from my own mind, 
if only for me, may come a synthesis of observations till 
then wholly unconnected — that is what I mean by a 
frontier of the imagination. Its proximity can only be felt 
in conversation, not in the reading of books unless scene 
and the way of thinking are already familiar- — for to read 
of the unknown is not enough. To feel upon the frontier, 
one must be aware at first hand of the individual pieces 
of the puzzle, each depending on the observations of 
individual man or woman. Then even the garden where 
one dines in peace may have some bearing on problems 
of zoology, geography or archaeology. 


I could not take the train from Buenos Aires to Santiago 
de Chile, since the line had been destroyed by landslips 
and the only communication between railhead and rail- 
head was through the high passes by mule. I should have 
enjoyed this, but John Kidd were insistent upon speed, and 
I doubted if they would approve. So I went up to Mendoza 
at the foot of the Andes and waited for a plane. 

Sharing my sleeping compartment was a Lithuanian 
Argentine whom I liked at once — an instance of the 
veneer of Spanish manners upon a European of little other 
culture. I cannot conceive myself so quickly at ease with a 
Lithuanian from Europe or North America. The next day, 
determined to show me Mendoza and its delights, he 
drove me out through the desert hills to a tavern and a 
swimming pool. There did not seem to be any living thing 
within miles but an Indian girl with long black plaits 
whom we contented ourselves with complimenting, her 
mother who ran back and forth with bottles of red wine, 
and a young goat which we grilled upon embers and ate — 
little by little and regardless of swimming with full 
stomachs. That country Argentine and I, though different 
in blood, background and education, had the same tastes. 
Without discussion or hesitation he had chosen for his 
hospitality to the stranger a place of lonely beauty rather 
than a place of crowds. 

Very properly he allowed the evening to be governed by 
tradition and took me to the Mendoza public brothel: a 
glass-roofed palace admirably appointed and large enough 
to supply the wants — though I can but guess at statistics — 
of a city the size of Birmingham. It appeared to have all 
the tolerance of a good mixed club, for no one thought any 
the worse of me when I chose, abominating brothels, to 
sit upon one of the roomy red-plush sofas in the central 
hall and chat to the members. 

The plane to Chile twisted like a startled wood-pigeon 


through the high passes below the peak of Aconcagua, 
while I endeavoured to master the difficult art of sucking 
oxygen from the tube beside my seat without returning 
into it my lunch. Those were the days before pressurised 
hulls, and the crossing of the Andes was the highest pas- 
senger flight in the world. It lasted only an hour or so, for 
the southern Andes are just as narrow and abrupt as the 
hatchings on a map. I landed in a world of rushing water 
where every woman seemed to be attractive and every 
German sympathetic. 

Though the standard of the first, in the two main cafes 
of the capital, far surpassed that of any musical comedy 
chorus, it was the second which most surprised me. Where 
Germans are concerned, my Europeanism is suspect. It is 
probable that their foreign policy during my lifetime has 
conditioned me to dislike their character, their language 
and their literature, and that in the days of good Prince 
Albert, given a German governess whom I liked, I might 
have been as fond of the Teuton as the Latin. But there it 
is. In every individual of pure English blood it may be that 
the battle between the Mediterranean race and the Anglo- 
Saxon — with the Gelt as a casual umpire — -still goes on and 
that one of them has to win. 

But here were Germans, by passport Chileans and with 
Chilean wives and mothers, enjoying their mutual love 
affair with South America as thoroughly as the British and 
my solitary Lithuanian. The brotherhood of the Spanish- 
speaking foreigners, like the old brotherhood of the 
buccaneers, undoubtedly corresponds to a real and deep 
community of tastes. The book which for me best gives the 
flavour of the whole continent and its separate parts is 
Tschiffeiys Ride. Yet Tschiffely was a temporary immigrant 
from Switzerland — the nation which of all others is the 
most self-satisfied and farthest in spirit from Spain. 

I appointed as agents a firm of German-Chileans. They 


did not care from what country their imports came so long 
as the manufacturers were honest and intelligent. Their 
opinion of Hitler was aristocratic; he appeared to be 
efficient at setting the ports and industries of Germany to 
work, but he was obviously too vulgar to last. They were 
thinking of him in terms of a Spanish-American dictator 
and underrating that German adoration of vulgarity which 
had been educated out of themselves. Both partners of the 
firm were Chilean to the core — though one of them could 
have played a Prussian officer in any movie. They opened 
the life of the country to me, and begged me to come back 
when I had finished my tour and stay. Given some capital, 
I might have done so. On the other hand, if I had had any 
I should never have seen Chile at all. Poverty has its 

My memories of the journey up the coast from Val- 
paraiso to Lima and Lima to Guayaquil are dominated by 
archaeology and history and the traffic of the small desert 
ports under the shadow of the Andes. The few passengers 
seemed to be all searchers : one for cosmic rays on the top 
of Mount Misti, another for gold in the Montana, another, 
returning from the Eucharistic Congress in Buenos Aires, 
for new missionary fields. Business was excellent all the 
way up the Pacific coast, but the meditative part of my 
mind must have overwhelmed that which was satisfied by 

My only regret is that I do not possess a Peruvian pot in 
the shape of two amorous and ecstatic cats which was 
offered to me absurdly cheap by one of the custodians at 
the pre-Inca city of Chan-Chan. As the export of antiquities 
was forbidden and all passengers were closely observed by 
the Customs when they returned to the ship, I think I 
was right in supposing that custodian and customs officer 
were in collaboration to improve their standards of living, 
and that the pot would have been confiscated and myself 


subjected to a heavy official or unofficial fine. Yet the 
thought always haunts me that the custodian was genuinely 
short of money and appealing to me as one gentleman to 
another. If I had not been so suspicious, the cats, though 
heaven knows how I would have concealed them, might 
now be on my desk. 

In none of the capitals did I bother to call on the British 
Legation. This was, I fear, a discourtesy; but agents, 
printers and their hospitable friends left me no time for my 
own countrymen. Experience in Europe had taught me 
that commercial attaches, while they might be useful to 
Government contractors and representatives of heavy 
industry, were never in touch with the sort of agent I 
wanted. They could see no difference between the honest, 
energetic businessman employing his small capital to the 
full, and the bright local boy selling buttons or dirty 
postcards on commission. Closer and most friendly contact 
with diplomats during the war has not changed my 
opinion. They are well informed about the trade and 
politics of the country to which they are accredited, but 
are too busy to know the middle class. 

At Lima I was pleasantly rebuked for this attitude. 
Strolling off to dinner with a highly intelligent English- 
man whom I had partnered at bridge, he asked me if I had 
called at the Legation. I said that I had not, and protested 
that I was very capable of travelling, selling and enjoying 
myself without its aid. He replied that he himself was the 
British Minister in Peru and Ecuador, and pointed out 
that though indeed he might have little to offer me — 
beyond the contents of his cellar and the attentions of his 
cook — I to the exile from London had much to give. That 
point of view had never occurred to me. The gilded youth 
of Bucharest had travelled too far to remember that he 
too, by courtesy of education, had once belonged to the 
Servant Class. 


In Ecuador I temporarily replaced the Minister. My 
fellow traveller in the toy train which zigzags down twelve 
thousand feet from Quito to the coast was a former Vice- 
President of the Republic. He was a man of immense 
distinction, resembling a well-fed but still slender Don 
Quixote. At Riobamba, where we stayed the night, he 
decided to show me the town and — since the possibilities 
seemed to be limited — called upon the Mayor to help us. 
It was a memorable night, some parts of which I used, 
long afterwards, in a short story. In the morning we were 
inserted into the train — I hope regretfully — by a delega- 
tion of local politicians who had been informed by the 
Vice-President that I was the British Minister. This legend 
he had developed himself, wit piling upon wit, from an 
earlier statement about midnight that I ought to be the 
British Minister. And so, if only sympathetic misbehaviour 
had been enough qualification, I ought. 

Nowhere else but in South America could a stranger 
have been so quickly judged, and accepted as a tolerable 
and discreet companion. The mood is not only for parties. 
By assuming that every individual will contribute such 
powers of entertainment as he has, a party generosity is 
carried into daily life. Sometimes it has a resemblance to 
the facile comradeship of youth — even when a Vice- 
President is in command — but it is still another cause of 
the fascination of Spanish- American manners for those of 
us who have surrendered to them. 

Of Colombia I saw only the coast, passing between 
Barranquilla and Cartagena by the stern-wheel boat on 
the waterways of the Magdalena delta. The country was a 
great plain of tropical marsh where anything solid was 
covered by a convolvulus-like trailer, which then grew 
upon its own dead litter until it had formed a lump the 
size of a cottage. The Indian settlements where the stern- 
wheeler loaded and unloaded sacks and bundles were 


indistinguishable from the bog except by smoke-fires lit on 
the doubtful shore to protect stevedores and steamer from 
the mosquitoes. At sundown and after, the insect life was 
all-pervading as air. Such individuals of the swarm as 
managed to penetrate my cabin — a wired cell with no 
furniture but a camp bed — were snapped up so promptly 
that my dislike of spiders was overcome by admiration. It 
was a journey which gave me some idea of the desolation 
with which the conquistador es had to contend, and indeed 
at Barranquilla I met one of them in person, four hundred 
years out of his time. 

He was a Spaniard and a printer, and for some un- 
accountable reason we could not be separated. He was the 
original of Manuel Vargas in The Third Hour, and even in 
that boldly romantic novel I hardly exaggerated his 
adventures. He had blown up trains in the Mexican 
Revolution. He had been condemned to an Indian cam- 
paign in the swamps of Yucatan. He had travelled all over 
Latin America and at last settled in Barranquilla as 
manager of a printing shop — a trade at first unfamiliar to 
him as to me, but in which his naming Spanish energy 
made dust of his more leisurely competitors. 

I had a lonely Christmas in the port of Colon upon a 
formal and overfed Dutch liner which took me on to Costa 
Rica — a most friendly miniature republic where the coast 
was pure black and the highlands pure Spanish. The 
capital had even preserved the old communal bull-fight of 
Spain. I have never seen anything so dangerous. At one 
moment the ring was full of chatting, parading, laughing 
youth as in any Sunday square of any Latin city; at the 
next the bull was among them. There must have been over 
a hundred men in the plaza, eddying to form avenues for 
the bull and rings for any outstanding amateur performer. 
Yet the only casualties — and those not mortal — were 


among spectators perched on the barrier who were pushed 
off by the enthusiasm of the crowd. 

There followed a lazy week among my own countrymen 
on the s.s. Salvador, a. little steam yacht of a ship which 
plied up and down the Pacific coast of Central America 
and upon which I was the only passenger. Usually we 
travelled in darkness and spent the day discharging into 
lighters in some forested bay where a ring of volcanoes, 
each with a little plume of smoke like that of the resting 
ship, suggested far-off industry around our dock. At mid- 
day with ritual exactitude the mate and I would drink 
three pink gins of such colossal size and lasting effect that 
I was peaceful as the sea till nightfall. He too, though a 
more distant and sardonic observer than the settler on 
land, knew very well that he was living as near to earthly 
paradise as he was ever likely to approach in his career. 

I left the Salvador at San Jose de Guatemala — the most 
ramshackle port of all I had visited, where a sand road ran 
down to the shore between grass-roofed huts, and on the 
red-hot lines of the railway iguanas were stretched full 
length, regarding me, as I sat desolately upon my bags, 
with as little curiosity as the inhabitants. 

Guatemala City was a pleasant and civilised spot except 
for the loud and continuous tinkle of marimbas. Like any 
other folk instrument a little of it in its proper setting was 
delicious, but, as the main recreation of a considerable 
town, the marimba too closely resembled the barrel organ 
— a hundred barrel organs turned at random by a hundred 
enthusiastic monkeys. There was also a festival for the 
selection of the Central American Beauty Queen. The 
standard was ethereally high and added to the mild 
exasperation caused by marimbas. 

Apparently I chose an odd way to enter Mexico. It 
seemed straightforward enough. One took a train to the 
frontier, crossed the river by ferry and went on by rail 


from Tapachula to Mexico City. When, however, I had 
followed my porter shuffling through the night down a 
track into the bush, had shied away from a coiled snake — 
fortunately dead — upon the river sands and had crossed to 
Mexico in a leaky punt, I realised that either there were 
few travellers between Guatemala and Mexico, or else they 
went by se^a. 

On the far bank the Mexican customs were in the open 
air. The counters, lit by flares, looked like fair booths. In 
charge of the passport bureau was a grim and magnificent 
young Indian, hung with pistols instead of obsidian knives 
and garlanded by a khaki shirt open to the navel. He at 
once and completely fulfilled all I had ever heard or read 
of Mexico. 

He told me, with a fine contempt for all Europeans, that 
I could not enter Mexico, that my visa was in order but 
that I had no receipt for a large monetary guarantee 
which should have been deposited with the Bank of 
Mexico. The Consulate in London had told mc nothing of 
this, and it looked as if I should have to return to 

I forced myself to remember that this terrifying bandit 
was a part of that Latin America which I pretended to 
love, and that even a Chiapas Indian, fresh from revolu- 
tion and probably an atheist, was still, by the grace of 
Spain and the Church, a caballero. And of course, when 
treated as such, he was. As soon as the flares were put out 
and the river bank was silent, he agreed to escort me to 
Tapachula and to allow me to cable London. 

I spent three days in the little hotel at Tapachula wait- 
ing for confirmation that my guarantee had been deposited. 
It was the only period on the whole tour when I was bored. 
The town was wholly Indian and had the dejection of the 
full tropics. There was nothing to do, nothing to read, 
nothing to see, and I was not allowed to explore the dis- 


trict. Largely I slept and ate strange fruits. Sometimes I 
watched the women washing clothes in the river. Some- 
times I would have a drink with the bandit. Indeed I 
began to look upon him as my only friend in the over- 
grown infinities of the Americas. We parted with regret — 
though I do not know enough of the Mexican Indian 
character to say whether that was due to the cautious 
perfection of my manners or to his disappointment that he 
could not chase me, at the end of one of his numerous 
fire-arms, back over the sands to Guatemala. 

Mexico City was a fitting end to a journey which had 
begun at Buenos Aires. Both have the feeling of grand 
capitals; between them are only the lovely cities of the 
Indies. For the cultured, even the over-cultured immigrant 
from Europe, Mexico City is the obvious first choice. Yet 
twenty years ago it was already in a state of transition, and 
I wonder if now it might not be more attractive to the lover 
of North rather than South America. 

And what a market! It crowned a successful trip. At last 
I was faced by United States competition, and to cut into 
their trade, after dealing so long with the careful German 
tailoring of exports to the requirements of the buyer, was a 
holiday. The American salesman on his own territory is 
the acknowledged master of all, but in foreign trade he 
then seemed rarely capable of adjusting his methods to the 
social and business customs of the importer. 

The stars which assured that in a Spanish-speaking 
country I could do nothing very wrong were swift to show 
me that across the border their protection ended. I looked 
forward to a luxurious railway journey to New York. So 
often in the past I had watched greedily the dinars in the 
restaurant car but had to content myself with jumping off 
at a station for a hot dog. Especially I looked forward to 
breakfast. It is a humble meal, for which I have normally 
little use, but in its preparation Americans are supreme. 


Even the French cannot claim so much. The finest 
Parisian lunch may be equalled for the unconventional by 
a Chinaman, for the rice-lover by an Arab, for the 
amateur offish by that improbable outsider, a Portuguese, 
coming up on the rails with herbs and a frying pan. But no 
one, anywhere, can approach an American breakfast at all. 

The train passed through the night into Texas, and I 
rose prepared for a bowl of orange juice, wheat cakes and 
maple syrup, and whatever the cook had prepared to go 
with his admirable bacon. Accustomed to the international 
trains of Europe where one currency was as good as 
another in the restaurant car, I assumed that the head 
waiter would change my Mexican dollars at a head- 
waiter's rate. But he would not — -and there was I sniffing 
coffee with a thick wad of money in my pocket and unable 
to eat. I protested mildly, but he was having no nonsense 
about international trains. He implied that it was an 
American train which, averting its eyes from the shame, 
had been compelled to cross a frontier. He added, politely 
but inexorably, that guys who wanted American bacon 
should provide themselves with American dollars. Some 
forty-eight hours later I reached New York and dashed to 
the nearest bank, as hungry as I had ever been in the days 
of poverty. 

I sailed from New York to Barcelona and went home by 
Madrid and Lisbon, appreciating them more than ever as 
the fountain-heads of all the splendour and good-fellowship 
I had encountered. In London Marina joined me, and at 
last we recovered that commonest of human rights, a 
home. She gave up hers for mine. On the other hand I 
gave up much of my character for hers. With profound 
respect for each other, we made the best of what neither 
would admit was a mistake. For four years, first with John 
Kidd and then as a writer, domesticity reluctantly endured. 


In August 1939 I had all the attributes of peace except 
any desire for it. Although I was now an interested 
craftsman and acquiring an incredulous respect for 
myself, I was always conscious of some futility in the 
writer's life. I had watched the gropings of my Europe 
back towards the lights which had gone Out in 19 14, and 
had dared to believe that between the economic depression 
and Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland they had again 
flickered into life, if only for a few hours and in a few most 
favoured streets. My feeling for Nazi Germany had the 
savagery of a personal vendetta. 

Yet if a smooth surface of life could make content, con- 
tent I should have been. I had a London flat and a 
growing circle of friends, which I badly needed. Reviewers 
had been very kind to my first novel. I had a second in the 
hands of the publishers and I could see what I was going 
to live on for three months ahead. 

On August 20th I received a telegram from the War 
Office requesting me — we were not yet on a footing of 
orders — to report within twenty-four hours. The urgency 
surprised and flattered me. No one had ever demanded me 
within twenty-four hours; next week was always enough. 



I assumed that I was wanted to attend another course, not 
that the end and object of courses had arrived. As poli- 
tically uninformed as any other member of the public, I 
could not believe that Hitler intended to strike eastwards 
after our guarantee to Poland and Roumania had made it 
clear that any more playing at soldiers meant world war. 

It had been very different at the time of Munich. 
Then war had seemed to me imminent and in honour 
unavoidable. What use there could be for an able-bodied 
commercial traveller of thirty-eight — I was not yet wholly 
committed in mind to my new profession — I did not know. 
For active service abroad I was not trained. Both Civil 
Defence and Anti-Aircraft formations, for which I was 
easily acceptable, lacked the outlandish touch which I 
personally felt inseparable from war. Then came an 
announcement that men of good education and a military 
standard of health could join the Territorial Army Reserve 
of Officers. I took my place in the queue which snaked 
amiably through the courtyards of the War Office. 

It was a considerable queue. There must have been at 
least five hundred of us on that morning of the Munich 
Crisis. From then on I never had any doubt what the 
ultimate result of war would be. My certainty was of 
course the wildest romanticism, growing upon one solid 
fact. Those hundreds in the queue, by their faces and 
bearing, were so obviously produced by a training more 
Spartan than any other country had imposed upon its 
youth. Many of them, no doubt, would have bored me to 
the point of any subterfuge for escape; most were still living 
in a Kipling world of the early nineteen-hundreds; some, 
like myself, had an extra edge upon their patriotism 
because war appeared so infinitely more desirable than 
sitting at a desk or looking for a desk to sit at. But the fact 
remained that they were a cross-section of a self-confident 
elite — far from perfect officers from the point of view of 


handling men, far from a German standard of intelligence, 
yet with values so simple and assured that they would 
rejoice the heart of any commander. 

Arrived inside the War Office, we sat at tables and filled 
in forms. I had not expected so many questions which I 
could answer with a hopeful affirmative. There was even 
mention of Certificate A, the existence of which I had 
entirely forgotten though I had acquired it in 191 8. Its 
face value was comic, proving only that its possessor could 
command a company in the still Napoleonic manoeuvres 
of the parade ground without tying it into a knot, that he 
could take a rifle to pieces and answer correctly written 
questions on the infantry tactics of the Boer War. But I 
have the utmost respect for it, since I never had any other 
military training and it sufficed. I had learned the first 
principle of the military life : that if you preserve a smart, 
alert and intelligent bearing, you will have ample time 
later to find out what the devil your superiors or sub- 
ordinates are talking about. 

The Munich autumn passed; in the winter I was 
summoned to have my languages tested. Nothing but life 
had ever tested them before. My Spanish turned out to be 
still fluent, profane and idiomatic ; my French, serviceable 
for all ordinary purposes ; my German, a wildly individual 
version of the language which could be readily understood 
by any person of goodwill. 

Soon afterwards I received a letter inviting me to an 
interview. It was a mysterious letter, for it was not franked 
On His Majesty s Service but bore a stamp. Keeping imagi- 
nation upon all the curb it could endure I called at the 
War Office and was shown into a room which seemed to 
me unnecessarily large. At the far end of it were a colonel 
and an exceptionally lovely girl. I restrained my eyes, 
fearing that I might be written down, in the too easy 
judgement of the English, as a man who had more interest 


in women than duty. The real reason for Joan Bright's 
presence was not, I now feel, the primitive separation of 
honest rams from billy goats, but the value of her snap 
judgement. Her remarks — if I am right — when each of us 
had left the room would have been entertaining to hear. 

Then came two courses in Intelligence Duties. The sub- 
jects of the lectures were utterly unexpected, for there was 
hardly a mention of the employment of spies or of security 
against them. Roughly speaking, we were being trained in 
the strategy of the coming war. We were never actually 
told that defeat was probable, but it was clearly foreseen 
that at the very best the meeting of the main armies would 
produce stalemate, and that victory might be destined for 
the side which could produce the most ingenious methods 
of breaking it. 

The use and organisation of the commando, the oppor- 
tunities given by the parachute, the rallying of large local 
forces by small parties of British, the art of guerrilla war- 
fare — those were the main subjects of the course. All the 
underhand methods of tying down the enemy and destroy- 
ing his confidence which began to inspire the public 
between 1942 and 1944 were prophesied to us and the 
technique explained in the summer of 1939. British mili- 
tary thinking was revolutionary. It had to be, for the War 
Office was short of any weapon but cunning. I remember 
that when a party of us was taken to the Farnborough 
depot, so that we might be able to recognise and describe 
the main features of our own or enemy armour, there was 
only one modern tank in the sheds, and that was a 

Nothing was said of our intended employment — or 
indeed could be said, for no one could tell where in the 
coming war the fronts would be. It seemed to me pretty 
obvious that I should be used in a Spain which was fighting 
with the Axis, and I dreamed of my partisans in the remote 


hills from the Cantabrian Mountains to the Picos de 

When in August 1939 I reported to the War Office, the 
dream of Basque commandos vanished. It was to be 
Roumania. I had never given the country a thought. When 
tested for a knowledge of the language, I could not speak 
a word nor even read a newspaper. At my first visit to the 
War Office in that eager queue I well remember wonder- 
ing, pen poised over the form, whether I had or had not 
the impudence to put Roumanian among my languages. 
But it was absurd to admit that one had lived in a country 
for four years and been content to know enough to call a 
cab. Still hesitating, I scribbled the nine letters. So small 
and insignificant and unnoticed an act decided the pattern 
of six years of my life and therefore all the far course of it. 

My orders were to leave for Egypt in four days. Startled 
by the sudden conjuring of a Captain Household out of 
those gentlemanly courses and the last remains of youth, I 
went out and bought uniform. Marina, with a prudence 
which for the first and last time was fully justified, left for 
America. She remains in my life as a loyal and beloved 
friend. Out of the raw and passionate material which had 
forced itself upon her fourteen years earlier she made 
everything but a husband. 

The four long trains stood on the waterfront sidings at 
Dieppe. Around them, in them, carrying their kit to them 
were naval ratings in uniform, and officers of all three 
services barely disguised in sports jackets and grey flannel 
trousers. I crossed the quay to buy bread, ham and wine 
for what promised to be a long and uncomfortable journey. 
The French, appalled, begged me to tell them whether 
this brisk and purposeful movement, so familiar to the 
middle-aged among them, was mobilisation. I denied it 


impatiently. What we were and what our destination was 
no business of theirs. But the four trains, though they stood 
in the objective world of 1939, belonged to 1914m the sad 
eyes which stared from every shop and cafe. 

I knew their foreboding — the undismissible certainty 
that one has been at the beginning before and that the end 
must be the same. To me it had come in 1933 when sitting 
in a Brussels cafe I had opened the evening paper and 
found myself staring at a cartoon of sky darkened by 
German bayonets. It seems a mere nothing. But for ten 
years there had been no bayonets in cartoons. We did not 
think that in our lifetime there ever would be. No man or 
woman under forty can realise how unimaginable was 
European war to the casual citizen, the casual European 
newspaper reader in the years between Versailles and 

Yet to me and to not a few of us born about 1900 war 
was in some sort a release. We had been at school from 
1 9 14 to 1918, and our education, outside the classrooms 
and the monotonous games, was directed towards making 
us efficient officers. Our elders, first so senior as to be gods, 
then gods who had come down to earth, then near con- 
temporaries, went to France and largely stayed there. We 
knew very well that the average life of an infantry subaltern 
in the line was three weeks. It did not bother those who 
waited any more than those who went. One is always the 
exception. It did produce, however, an acceptance of 
death as a possible, even a normal end of youth — the price 
which might have to be paid for satisfying our over- 
whelming, burning curiosity as to what it was really like 
to be under enemy fire, a question as intense as what it was 
really like to sleep with a woman. Merely to be told, how- 
ever frequently and vividly, was not enough. Thus when 
the armistice came and still one was a schoolboy it pro- 
duced frustration not relief. 


So the circumstances in which I landed at Dieppe were 
a proud fulfilment — though indeed I felt something of a 
fraud since there were as yet no war and no danger and no 
doubt at all in my mind that anyone entrusting his life to 
my military knowledge would certainly lose it. So I had to 
be satisfied with the romantic pleasure — for such a sybarite 
as myself — of considerable discomfort. 

The four trains were full of naval ratings for the Medi- 
terranean Fleet, of the officers of WavelPs army recalled 
from leave, of essential civilians staffing harbours, depots 
and cables : of everyone in fact who had to be at his post 
before Germany could close the overland routes to the 
east, and Italy delay the passage of the Mediterranean. 
Warsaw and Bucharest might be cut off at any moment, 
so the Polish and Roumanian military missions were des- 
patched to Egypt whence, by rail or air, they could move 
to their stations on the declaration of war. We were nearly 
all amateur soldiers, picked for our languages or special 
knowledge, and put in the picture — trained is too strong a 
word — by the same courses. We must have been the very 
first party of the new armies to leave England on active 
service. At least two of us did not see it again for five and 
a half years. 

I can claim with truth to have crossed the length of the 
Mediterranean in an open boat. After two days and a 
night in the train, much of it spent on sidings within 
infuriating sight of Paris, we arrived at Marseilles and 
were taken on board the waiting cruiser. Seventeen hun- 
dred of us there were, and the ship could not have been 
fought and could barely be handled without treading on 
us. The two military missions, claiming to be so secret that 
they were not allowed to mix with their fellows, captured 
and held one of the ship's boats ; and there, beneath the 
davits, some twenty of us lived and slept during the passage 
to Alexandria. The only unbearable hardship was the lack 


of any alcohol. Food, though it largely consisted of bread 
and marmalade, was happily spiced by the speed of that 
treaty cruiser, reaching urgently across the Mediterranean 
at thirty knots. 

The Polish mission flew off to Warsaw from Cairo, 
leaving the Roumanians at the Metropolitan Hotel — then 
less well known than later and still able to keep up superb 
menus for us, its sole guests in August — to wait in extreme 
luxury for the declaration of war. 

We could only enter neutral Roumania secretly and as 
civilians, for the object of our mission was wholly destruc- 
tive. Our orders were to deny Roumanian oil to the 
Germans if they invaded Roumania, and to concert plans 
with picked engineers of the oil companies and our opposite 
numbers from the French Army for the utter destruction 
of the fields and refineries. The Germans, naturally, would 
be aware that some such plot must be well in hand, but so 
long as there was no noticeable British activity and no 
sudden arrival of suspicious strangers they could only 

We travelled separately through Palestine, the Lebanon 
and Turkey, with reasonable cover as businessmen. I was 
forbidden to travel on my current passport which gave my 
profession as author. Authors, said the authorities, were 
immediately suspected by every security officer. Compton 
Mackenzie and Somerset Maugham had destroyed our 
reputation as unworldly innocents for ever. So I was 
given a new passport which stated that I was an Insurance 
Agent. Nobody could know less than I about insurance, 
but, as I did not have to practise or pretend to practise the 
profession, that mattered little. 

As soon as Poland had been overrun, Roumania was 
helpless; but she hoped to delay invasion with her own 
army and such detachments of Weygand's army in 
Syria as could arrive in time to hold the line of the 


Carpathians. We had three plans for the devastation of the 
oil-fields. No. i assumed the active help of the Roumanian 
Army. No. 2 assumed its complete preoccupation on the 
frontier, leaving us to do the job with the expert help of a 
field company of sappers, trained in demolition, which 
stood ready in Egypt to join us as soon as Roumania 
was at war. No. 3 called for the utmost possible measure of 
destruction in spite of the opposition of the Roumanian 
Government and Army. A few of the most trustworthy 
officers of the Roumanian General Staff knew all about 
Plan 1 — and of course our identities — something of 
Plan 2 and nothing at all of Plan 3. 

On arrival in Roumania I went straight to Ploesti where 
I stayed with Gwynn Elias, the fields manager of Unirea, 
ostensibly as an old friend and personal guest, to familiarise 
myself with oil, its machinery and its men. We had to be so 
careful not to compromise the organisation that frequent 
visits to the fields were impossible. Ploesti swarmed with 
Germans. The Americans and Dutch were neutral. And 
some of the bluffer British, while they could be trusted to 
blow up anything including, if necessary, themselves, were 
incapable of not talking loudly in cafes. 

My colleagues had much better cover than I. Stanley 
Green had once been secretary of Unirea and could pre- 
tend up to a point that he was on special duty from the 
London office. Tim Watts, the angel of doom for the 
refineries, was a chemist from I.C.I, and entitled to take a 
reasonable interest in oil and its derivatives. But I could 
only remain as inconspicuous as possible, letting it be 
known that I was not anxious to return from this pleasant 
neutral country to an England at war. I spent my days 
upon Elias's living-room floor, carpeted with large-scale 
maps of the Tintea field, and my nights, when we could all 
move around more freely, at conferences or bridge. 

Even in South America I have never known anything 


like Elias's hospitality to the prisoner in his house. They 
were the salt of the earth, those picked men of the oil- 
fields, keen, daring, ingenious and refusing to be beaten by 
any technical problem. All the essential work was done by 
them. We merely co-ordinated it. 

But nothing happened. The expected German invasion 
did not come; the period of phoney war dragged on; the 
wives of the oil-men, who had been evacuated, returned 
to Ploesti. Only one service had any immediate nuisance 
value, and that was of quite another organisation which 
took an interest in the aviation spirit shipped from Russia 
to Roumania and on by rail to Germany. Oil from the 
Roumanian fields was largely denied to the enemy by 
economic warfare. 

When the plans, the responsibilities and the methods 
had been worked out, there was no further point in staying 
at Ploesti and arousing curiosity. So we were all taken on 
to the staff of the Legation, following the German practice 
of giving minor diplomatic status to their professional 
toughs. Green, Watts and I were installed in an office of 
dubious propriety between the Military Attache and the 
Air Attache where, when we were not poring over our 
maps and elaborating still quicker routes and instruments 
of destruction, we ciphered and deciphered telegrams — 
an occupation of appalling boredom, since seldom was 
anything of more than routine interest allowed to pass 
through our undiplomatic hands. 

The Military Attache, Geoffrey Macnab, was a master 
of his art, never allowing his right hand to know too 
obviously what his left hand was about. Roumania, though 
it would be an allied country if invaded, was in fact 
neutral and very anxious to give no provocation. The 
Government was only prepared to look the other way so 
long as there were no Franco-British activities so open and 


outrageous that the German Legation would be justified 
in protesting. 

Geoffrey Macnab was responsible for our administration 
and discipline, but only for such operations as were 
approved by and concerted with the Roumanian General 
Staff. At first it must have been a nightmare for him to be 
encumbered with officers in civilian clothing, of God-only- 
knew what training, what background and what lack of 
discretion, playing casually with detonators in the next- 
door office and drinking very much more than was good 
for them. But never for a moment did he treat us as if we 
were anything other than trusted friends from his own 
battalion. We liked him so much that we tried to be 
sensitive to the lightest touch of the reins — a handy meta- 
phor, though in fact he normally expressed incipient 
uneasiness by standing on one leg and wriggling the other. 

During the twenty years' peace I had not considered the 
regular officer, when I considered him at all, as any asset 
to his generation. This was partly due to too much reading 
of the follies of 19 14- 191 8, partly to personal observation 
of the fact that if you were capable of passing any examina- 
tion whatever you could pass into Sandhurst. The War 
Office, the ship and Egypt had already suggested to me 
that I was wrong. Macnab, setting an example which I 
never forgot of how to command imperceptibly, added 
further evidence. I cannot remember an occasion in five 
years of war when I met with discourtesy or marked im- 
patience from a regular officer. Professional ferocity, yes. 
Deliberate stupidity, no. It was always the amateur soldier, 
with an eye on his own importance, who was difficult. The 
professional trained between the wars, far from being 
doubtful and jealous of the amateur, seemed to cherish the 
new raw material with which the State had supplied 

My tribute to him, as from a romanticist, is worthless; 


but from the security officer, which for most of the war I 
was, it carries weight. By the very nature of my job I was a 
nuisance to busy men wanting to get on with the fighting, 
a perfumed staff officer to Hotspurs. But it was the regular, 
not the amateur, who always responded with good manners 
and good sense. 

Our real operational command, oddly enough, was 
naval. All our detailed planning was directed by Com- 
mander Watson, as he then was. I do not know who 
picked him to lead so desperate and delicate a venture 
which was military from beginning to end except for 
farcical sideshows on the Danube, but the choice was 
admirable. He was straight out of any stirring saga in 
glorious technicolour — for most exaggeratedly naval 
characters have an astonishing gift for becoming what 
seafaring fiction and the taxpayers expect. He was a hand- 
some man with cold, dark-blue eyes, and he had a natural 
as well as a naval talent for leadership, simple, unquestion- 
ing and unquestioned. I felt that my own expansive and 
only vaguely ruthless fire of duty was in him concentrated 
to a white flame. I cannot imagine a better leader with 
whom to go into action, although in following his example 
one might be offered less chance than was really available 
to live and fight another day. Had Watson leaned over my 
dying body I feel that my last words would have been 
notably patriotic, but to Geoffrey Macnab they would 
have been profane. 

In February 1940 I was despatched to Egypt on a 
demolition course. For the first time I put on uniform, 
obtained a movement order instead of a ticket and was 
delivered to Dabaa in the Western Desert where the field 
company of sappers which was earmarked for use in 
Roumania took over my body. 

I admitted that my military training had been of the 
sketchiest, and they were immensely kind. It is possible 


that we who came down to them from Roumania appeared 
mysterious and heroic figures, in spite of pointing out to 
them apologetically that our only activities were to 
eat in two of the finest restaurants of all Europe and 
to attend a cabaret every evening. Romantic vision — which 
exists in the eye of the observer rather than of the parti- 
cipant — was more solidly based upon our appreciation of 
them. These were the men for whose technical skill and 
ability to fight off interference we were only pathfinders. 

A fortnight under canvas with an efficient unit of high 
and happy morale made me more confident that the illu- 
sion would not be detected whenever I had to play the part 
of captain in any straightforward War Office production. 
With growing enthusiasm I blew craters, cut steel, stunned 
fish and my wrist-watch; and though the company had 
created for some miles around their camp a desert more 
formidable than that supplied by nature, they managed to 
find for the completion of my training a substantial roofless 
building of mud and stone. I am a most incompetent 
electrician, and it was one of the triumphs of my personal 
war when, after laying and wiring the charges myself, I 
pressed the plunger and the building disintegrated into 
noise and flame, hurling a large chunk of itself — for over- 
keenness had brought me a little close — in tribute at my 
god-like feet. 

Back in Bucharest our unheroic life of luxury continued; 
we felt like parasites upon the unhealthy back of war. 
Secrecy was more essential than ever, and we preserved it; 
but there was no sense of speed or urgency to indemnify us. 
Ever since the assassination of Calinescu, the Roumanian 
foreign minister, by the Iron Guard, German influence 
had been increasing; but the Roumanians believed fairly 
firmly in the ultimate victory of the French and British. As 
soon as disaster in the West showed that we were no match 
at all for the German Army, it was clear that the mission 


would not be allowed to destroy the oil-fields, and that the 
field company of sappers would be forbidden to land. 

That brought our third scheme into operation: to do 
what damage we could with a handful of British oil 
engineers. Our objective was the high-pressure field at 
Tintea. If we could destroy that, Roumanian output would 
be limited to the bailing and pumping wells. We believed 
it could be done by four or five small parties running from 
well to well, laying a heavy charge at the base of each 
Christmas tree which controlled the flow, and timing 
them to go off simultaneously. Whether all the wells would 
catch fire immediately was doubtful, though we had means 
of persuading them to do so. But in any case those pillars of 
gas and oil could never again be controlled by anything 
less than a specialist team from Texas. 

The guards on the wells were still company guards, whose 
exact movements were known. We reckoned that they 
could be put silently out of action, partly by bluff from 
engineers whom they knew, partly by strong-arm methods. 
It was highly desirable to avoid loss of life. Since we were 
in a neutral country, killing was murder. When the wells 
went up, a score of torches lighting the eastern foothills of 
the Carpathians, we hoped to be racing through the night 
to Galatz and a waiting destroyer. 

We were convinced that the plan was possible; and in 
theory it was. But in practice we should have been dis- 
organised by the difficulty, which later and more profes- 
sional commandos proved again and again, of any exact 
timing in a night operation. I think we could have sent up 
enough wells to make the field unworkable, and possibly 
to exhaust it, but the chance of the parties ever reuniting 
for escape was nil; so was escape without shooting. 

Twenty-four hours before this spectacular act of sabotage 
was to be carried out, the Roumanians posted two military 
sentries on every well. Who betrayed us we never knew. 


Such indications as there were suggested that the leak was 
not in Bucharest or Ploesti, but through the Roumanian 
Legation in London. It is possible that someone in 
authority had forgotten that the allegiances of major oil 
companies cannot, even in war, be too closely defined. 

That was the end of the oil scheme for ever. In July one 
of our French colleagues was arrested by the Paris Gestapo 
while carrying a portfolio of papers which gave away much 
of the earlier and official plot. All the British employees of 
the oil companies were expelled from Roumania. We 
clerks at the Legation, though both the police and the 
liaison officers of the Gestapo who were now with them 
knew that our clerkliness was highly dubious, were per- 
mitted after much argument to remain. 

War, if one has the temperament for it, may be enjoy- 
able; but it is a most unsatisfactory setting for human 
intelligence. What is planned with infinite pains and care 
never happens; and what is unforeseen flurries the ant- 
heap to madness before petering away into unimportance 
like a short story which the author cannot finish. Success 
does not seem to depend upon the prudence which claims 
to control or guard against events, but upon creating an 
instrument which is not affected by events. The justifica- 
tion for our existence — if in fact there was any — came in 
Burma, where our techniques proved useful and two of 
the oil-men, by then commissioned in the Army, were 
decorated for gallantry. 

Perhaps our studies were also of some use in the pro- 
tection of oil-fields. Three years later I inspected the 
Kirkuk high-pressure field, drawn partly by duty, partly 
by curiosity, and found that the Tintea plan had been 
utterly defeated by burying the Christmas tree deep in a 
bank of pebbles. To reach the vulnerable depths of it, the 
saboteur would have needed hours without interruption 
and a platoon of men with noisy shovels. 


Bucharest put on high summer, which I drank in from 
the balcony of a delightful rent-free flat taken over from 
one of the most deservedly exiled, high above the boule- 
vards. The monks chanted in the dark-panelled monas- 
teries. The willows continued to cascade over streams 
racing down to the Danube with the last of the snow water, 
while the frogs sang and the buffaloes wallowed. The 
restaurants which jewelled with their flowers or lights the 
chain of lakes around Bucharest — all marshes when I was 
young — still offered white wine and gipsy music, while the 
night air breathing up from roots of rushes cooled the 
exquisite complexions of the women. Never was such a 
country as the Wallachian plain for shade and water in 
savage heat. Those summer months of 1940 were the last 
blossoming of Byzantine civilisation. 

What could we do but enjoy it? No individual can be 
affected to more than a sigh and a passing anxiety by public 
ills so long as he has health, an amply sufficient income and 
a share of such luxuries as his impatient body demands ; 
and if he has none of them, no perfection of national pros- 
perity will ever persuade him to swing happily from bough 
to bough. My own enjoyment was little disturbed by the 
fact that the police seemed to have chosen me out from my 
fellows for special treatment. Indeed their attentions pos- 
sibly helped to dispel a sense of guilt. 

What their exact object was I never discovered — 
whether they hoped to make the Legation withdraw my 
union card, or whether they wished to impress the Iron 
Guard or the Gestapo by quite un-Roumanian energy. 
Probably we had unknown friends in the police who, when 
ordered to move a pawn, merely fiddled with it con- 
vincingly and withdrew their fingers. Sometimes I would 
be escorted to police headquarters, kept for a few hours in 
the waiting-room or on a hard chair in the passage, asked 
a few polite and inconsequent questions and dismissed; 


sometimes two scruffy plain-clothes operatives would 
blockade my front door and compel me to unconventional 
exits and movements which they could easily have pre- 
vented if they had had any real interest in arresting me. It 
was useful to have a second establishment where one did 
not have to register on arrival. 

The Legation flower garden was at its most spectacular. 
Unable to assist our country in arms, at least we were 
propagandists for its taste. The German collection of girls 
— handsome though it was — could not be compared with 
the British. One was an active patriot, her lovely eyes 
burning with the foreknowledge of public and private 
misery. Another, leaving politics to those who cared for 
them, had a skin of such individual and improbable tex- 
ture that any New York beauty parlour, though utterly 
unable to analyse the cause of the matt velvet, would have 
paid her merely to stand in the shop. There was a Mol- 
davian dancer, slim and statuesque, whose classic Greek 
face was the only one I have ever seen which had no sort of 
severity at all. There was a delicate young night-club 
singer, whose thirteenth-century perfection madly aroused 
the proper knightly mixture of chivalry and desire. And 
that is but to mention those who were above any mere 
film-star standard of beauty. 

My own part in all this Persian horticulture taught me 
at last to speak Roumanian : effortless, with fair accent and 
sentence rhythm, and with little notion beyond the imi- 
tative why I was employing any particular grammatical 
construction. The lesson was too swift, for one Latin 
language — even when its forms and its loan-words are 
barbaric — destroys another. My Roumanian has vanished. 
My Spanish fumbles. I paid no other price for entering that 
fairy hill where the normal penalty is of shattered emotions 
or a sense of guilt. 

Meanwhile disasters were falling hard upon Roumania. 


The Russians, with German approval, annexed Bess- 
arabia. The Germans, with Russian approval, decided to 
solve the Transylvanian question. 

Imagine a cupid's bow with the arrow fitted and half 
drawn. The curve of the bow is the chain of the Car- 
pathians. The string is the frontier between Hungary and 
Roumania fixed by the Treaty of Trianon. Between string 
and bow is Transylvania — a glorious, quiet country of hills 
and woods, not unlike the Welsh border of Hereford and 
Shropshire on a much larger scale, inhabited by Magyars 
and Roumanians inextricably mixed. 

Generally speaking and subject to a mass of local 
exceptions, there were more Hungarian than Roumanian 
townsfolk and more Roumanian than Hungarian peasants. 
Before 19 14, under Hungarian rule, the Roumanians were 
treated as a subject race and allowed no effective political 
representation. Under Roumanian rule, after 1920, the 
Hungarians had equal rights, but were humiliated by the 
corrupt and pliant administration of a people whose tradi- 
tions were Byzantine and whose religion was Greek 
Orthodox. Further bedevilling the pattern of nationalities 
were ancient settlements of German blood and language : 
some of them gentle Austrians, some blond and bump- 
tious Saxons. 

At the end of September 1940 Hitler superbly settled the 
Transylvanian question by an award which, ethnically, 
was neither better nor worse than the Treaty of Trianon, 
but placed Roumania at the mercy of any advance from 
Vienna and Budapest. A wedge of territory from the centre 
of the bow, corresponding to the wide shoulder and left 
arm of the archer, was given to Hungary, and the 
Roumanians were ordered to withdraw their troops, their 
administrative staff and all their official possessions within 
ten days. 

This offered a marvellous chance to enter the cauldron 


and observe whatever Hungarian, Roumanian and Ger- 
man movements were bubbling within it. We were par- 
ticularly anxious to know whether any units of the 
Wehrmacht, in uniform or plain clothes, were involved. 
Geoffrey Macnab invited me to go with him and try to 
slip through into the abandoned territory. Even as a much- 
liked military attache he could not get permission from the 
bitter and broken-hearted Roumanians. It was quite 
certain that I could not. 

The luck was with me. While his car was stopped at the 
military control post outside Brasov and he was drawing 
all attention to himself and his arguments, the sentries 
impatiently waved me on, presumably taking me for some- 
one who had legitimate business in the town. A moment 
later my Polish driver and I had the freedom of Transyl- 
vania. We raced westwards, like a speculative hearse, 
along the road to dying Europe, and soon began to meet 
the retreating columns of the Roumanian army. 

All the roads were jammed with weary divisions on the 
final stretch of their 250-mile march to the east. Angry and 
unsinging, under a pall of hot dust, the men moved as the 
armies of all history, and as armies will never move again. 
They had only their first-line transport, drawn by oxen 
and horses, overladen with their baggage and barrack 
stores. They were forbidden by the treaty to requisition 
and evacuate the lorries of the abandoned provinces, and 
all their own motor transport had been used to empty the 
buildings of the civil administration. 

The men were fighting fit and the field ambulances had 
very few occupants. These were allies of whom in a less 
scientific age we could have been proud, who would have 
fought over the exploding oil-fields with cheers and laughter 
if only the Germans had obligingly invaded a year before. 
I remembered the epic of the Battle of Marasesti — possibly 
the only folk epic, authorless except for gipsy singers, pro- 


duced in Europe during the twentieth century — which 
celebrated the sole Roumanian victory of 19 17 when the 
peasant troops, incompetently officered, half-starved and 
decimated by typhus, lost their tempers and tore into the 
astonished Germans with cold steel. We used to ask the 
gipsy bands to play it whenever there was a party of the 
enemy enjoying its meal. In the last few months they had 
sadly refused. 

The next day, driving south across the path of the rear- 
guards, we returned through the pass of Petrosani into 
Roumania proper. I cannot remember why. Probably 
there were rumours of German units in the south-west 
which had to be investigated, or information was wanted 
on troop movements in the pass. After exploring the 
country around Craiova, we turned north again into 
Transylvania by a forest track which the map suggested 
was passable for vehicles in summer. 

Hour after hour, congratulating ourselves on avoiding 
all control posts but increasingly aware that the car could 
never be turned back, we crept downwards over rutted 
turf winding so closely among trees that in places we had 
to manoeuvre as if extracting the car from a crowded 
parking place. Towards midnight this Hans Andersen path 
led us out into a world that was the dreamed ideal of 
human beings ever since the Golden Age. It was a world 
with no government at all. 

The Roumanians had gone. The Hungarians had not 
yet arrived. There was, next morning, a curious sense of 
apprehensive freedom. Magyar-speaking peasants were 
pleased, but frankly admitted that in that district of mixed 
population it was not worth while to upset the peace 
between neighbours. Roumanian-speakers were sad but 
comforted themselves — for in adversity we believe any- 
thing — with thoughts that Transylvania would be isolated 
from war and politics. Both nationalities walked in the 


streets or sat outside their cottages waiting, doing no work, 
savouring the quiet of this strange day without military, 
without police, without even a post office. Torn papers 
flapped lazily around the forecourts of barracks and public 
buildings. Official windows, blank and black, were point- 
less decorations to the squares which they had overawed. 
There were no flags. 

But it was time to watch the arrival of the triumphant 
Magyars. We drove north-west, crossing the axis of the 
advance, and were nearly caught behind it when the 
wheels dug themselves in on a soft hillside where we were 
hiding and observing simultaneously — with perhaps a 
balance in favour of the first. 

A small column of armoured cars was advancing below 
us, with another in the distance on a parallel road. Both 
were preceded by motor-cyclists in black leather jerkins 
and with slung carbines. Such modernity was overwhelm- 
ing after the dust and the ox-carts; but comparison was 
hardly fair. Had the Roumanians been feeling their way 
into empty country, preceded by their toy Renault tanks, 
they would have appeared equally up to date. 

The Hungarian advance guards, though fast in open 
country, were stopping to ensure that all centres of popu- 
lation were clear of the potential enemy and to instal the 
new administration. We were able to by-pass them and 
race ahead. We were now in a wholly Magyar-speaking 
district. The village streets were decorated with triumphal 
arches. Outside gendarmerie or church were welcoming 
tables of food and wine. 

We were hungry and thirsty; and this air of civic 
rejoicing, though we were far from invited to the party, 
was irresistible. My Polish driver made a suggestion of a 
simple daring which would never have occurred to me. 
Our Legation car had no diplomatic number-plates but it 
did possess a Union Jack to be flown from the radiator cap 


whenever a real diplomat was in it and on official business. 
This jewel of a chauffeur proposed that we should put it up. 

The Legation had its pick of the Poles. On the collapse 
of their country, any military who could still pass between 
the Russians and Germans escaped into Roumania. If in 
uniform, they had to be interned; but if they managed to 
appear at the frontier in anything remotely resembling 
civilian clothes, they were treated as civil refugees. The 
Roumanians, moved by a people they liked and a fate 
which might well be in store for themselves, gave them all 
the hospitality they could afford. The British, too, could 
and did help. Lord Forbes — now the Earl of Granard and 
then an extraordinarily able boy in his middle twenties — 
had flown himself into Bucharest in 1939 and bullied the 
Legation, which had no job for him, into letting him take 
over Polish refugees. Later he was appointed Air Attache, 
but his hobby remained Poles. Whenever a reliable 
man was wanted for any job, speaking any required 
language, Forbes could always recommend one. This driver 
was his own, and a particular pet. He had a most sympa- 
thetic disregard for the consequences of his actions. To 
have no nerves, you need to have no country. 

At the next village, flying the Union Jack, we were 
received with roars of applause and, when we stopped at 
one of those hospitable tables, overwhelmed with bread, 
meat, bottles and questions. Who were we? What were we 
doing? The Hungarians had a bad conscience at accepting 
Transylvania from the hands of Hitler. They were delighted 
to see the British flag. It promised that there was still 
opposition to the Nazis. 

I explained that I was the Official British Observer. My 
speaking of the despised Roumanian aroused only interest. 
After long experience of the League of Nations and its 
commissions empowered to report upon the treatment of 
minorities, they thought it astonishing that any official 


observer should speak either of the local languages. It is a 
depressing thought that all international investigations are 
conducted through interpreters with an axe to grind. 

The quenching of their curiosity and our thirst was 
interrupted by the roar of the Hungarian advance guard 
coming up the road. We bounded into the car and 
vanished. Once out of sight behind the nearest kindly 
contour, panic gave way to the healthy optimism of 
wine. It was cowardly to go on ahead, skimming the 
cream of the sandwiches under a false pretence, when duty 
demanded that we should observe the actual occupation. 
It seems to me now that duty demanded nothing of the 
sort, but at the time I was possibly taken in by my own 

We folded away the Union Jack and drove into the next 
little town a few minutes ahead of the motor-cyclists, 
adopting a stern and selfless pose like that of the mounted 
police officer who rides a quarter of a mile in front of a 
procession and ignores the premature cheers. Our right to 
park among other cars opposite the reception committee 
was not questioned. The public was busy craning its neck, 
and no officious authority, for another happy half minute, 

There was little to see but general enthusiasm and what 
looked like a brigade staff. Accompanying the Hungarians 
were a car of German newspapermen and a car of 
observers, more official than I, with Nazi arm-bands. The 
hated symbol on that hated, military flesh was curiously 
unreal. Both they and I were prohibited from wearing 
uniform in a neutral country, so that I could hardly be 
considered a spy; nor, however romantically I tried, could 
I feel that I was anything so definite. On the other hand I 
had no right whatever to be in Hungary — though the 
mayor was only now signing his oath of allegiance — nor to 
take notes of troop movements. 


The rejoicings covered a discreet withdrawal. I was far 
more nervous when we passed through Bistrita, a sulky 
Saxon town now flowering with swastikas which had been 
forbidden by the Roumanian Government, where the 
inhabitants had no immediate excitement to take their 
minds off the presence of a stranger and nothing to do but 
stare suspiciously and make futile half-gestures of blocking 
the road. 

There was now little empty space between the advancing 
Magyars and the angry Roumanians looking down from 
the mountain-tops into their lovely lost province. We 
began the gloomy climb, up through the pine forests of the 
Dracula country to the new frontier. At the top, above the 
trees, the road was barred. An attempt at bluff, a swearing 
that I lived in Bucharest and was happy to be able to 
return to my dear country, merely brought the bayonets 
forward from a yard to six inches. After all that humiliation 
the Roumanian soldiery was thirsting for blood, and any 
foreigner would do. 

We were rescued by a young lieutenant of security 
police who ordered us to return to Transylvania. When I 
flatly refused and showed him my diplomatic union card, 
which at least proved that I was normally resident in 
Bucharest, he jumped into the car and escorted us down 
to Vatra Dornei for interrogation. He was a pleasant and 
civilised fellow, and I remarked, with the light-heartedness 
of a clear conscience, that I hoped I should not be shot. 
The prospect did not seem to him altogether absurd; he 
answered that Roumanians shot no one without court- 
martial. It then occurred to me that I had in my notebook, 
besides bits of information on Hungarians, details far less 
scrappy of the Roumanian order of battle. It was just that 
touch of professionalism which the amateur soldier so 

Little Vatra Dornei was half garrison town, half holiday 


resort. In spite of all the excitement across the border, it 
preserved the peace of Sunday evening. There was laughter 
to be heard from the cafes and, over all, the song of the 
water rushing down to the Moldavian rivers. The lieu- 
tenant, marching a little behind, directed me to the office 
of the Deputy Provost Marshal. He did not bother with my 
Polish driver. Whatever the man had been up to, there 
was no doubt of his status and political sympathies. The 
Roumanians were usually generous to exiled Poles. 

The D.P.M. was not in his office. His clerk thought he 
was at home. We went to his home. His wife thought he 
was at the office. The security lieutenant, seeing in time 
the pit which yawned at his feet, quickly lied that we had 
not yet been to the office. In after years when I too was in 
control of frontiers — though not, thank God, ever respon- 
sible to a D.P.M. — I used to remember my Roumanian 
colleague with affection. I doubt if I myself, in the obsti- 
nate pursuit of duty, would have been so quick to anticipate 
the worst as he. 

But there his tact ended. He must have suspected how 
his commanding officer was spending the evening, but he 
saw no reason why so commonplace and traditionally 
soldierly a sport should not be interrupted with as little 
ceremony as a British officer would interrupt a game of 

He dragged me round the hotels, and at last we ran the 
D.P.M. to earth. He was upstairs in a bedroom. The 
security officer knocked and entered, leaving me in the 
passage. There was an embarrassed female exclamation. 
The D.P.M.'s voice rose — quite literally, for it started at 
divan level and continued at the height of a standing man. 
His eloquence was so fascinating that I never thought of 
getting rid of my incriminating notebook. The strip torn 
off that unfortunate lieutenant was the most uninhibited 


exhibition of discourteous military cursing I have ever 

When the lieutenant came out, I suggested a drink. He 
accompanied me, still silent, to a cafe table. I did what I 
could to restore his equanimity — praised his country, his 
army and even his government, told him that I had 
watched the retreat and that no other troops in Europe 
could have effected it on their feet in time. He hardly 
spoke at all. At last he told me to take my car and driver 
and go quickly before he changed his mind. 

It was not that he believed me innocent; nor was it 
wholly humiliation that on such a day of national mourn- 
ing his commanding officer should spend the evening in 
pleasant dalliance. What shook him, I think, was the taking 
of amusement so seriously that interrogation of a highly 
suspicious character in a time of crisis could not be imme- 
diately arranged. The D.P.M. might in his defence have 
pleaded — if he had ever heard of him — Sir Francis Drake 
and his game of bowls. But he was not a man to explain 
himself to subordinates. He personified the middle-class 
bully who is the greatest justification of communism in any 
peasant country. For the lieutenant nothing was worth 
while any more, and it was easier to get rid of the pat- 
ronisingly sympathetic foreigner than to endure his eyes. 

A day or two after I returned to Bucharest, the end 
came. King Carol abdicated. Antonescu and his fascist 
Iron Guard took over the government. Already one hotel 
was packed with German officers in civilian clothes. Since 
Roumania was still officially neutral, the accredited dip- 
lomats stayed on. All the more equivocal British organisa- 
tions were loaded into a ship and despatched from 
Constanta to Istanbul. 

Our last act was to get rid of our store of explosives 
which could not possibly be left where they were. That 
was a nerve-racking night, for several cars had to pass 


through the capital and out into open country while the 
roads were busy with the disorganised activities of police, 
military and the Iron Guard. If one of the cars were 
stopped, and its cargo of gelignite, gun cotton, detonators 
and the timing devices of the saboteur were examined, the 
Roumanians would be justified in interning us for the 
duration of the war. But safely we sank them, punt-load 
after punt-load, among the tall reeds of a lake, and 
intemperately, when all was done, we drank the white 
wine of our bold host who had provided the waterside villa 
and the boat. 

Of the original Roumanian mission some, during the 
long wait for action, had been claimed by commercial war- 
fare, by the fringes of diplomacy and by other branches of 
Intelligence. The only simple soldiers left were Stanley 
Green and myself. He had some right to the name, for he 
had seen active service, under age, in the first war. 

We reported to GHQin Cairo and began to look for 
jobs. Egypt in October 1940 was still a preserve of the 
regular army. If the amateur had not been sent out from 
England with a definite posting or was not a local resident 
with special knowledge of the Middle East and its lan- 
guages, he was nobody's responsibility and was very 
sensibly encouraged to raid the military branches for 
himself and grab whatever work he thought would suit 
him; a fair parallel would be the seeking of a job in peace- 
time through the streets of some immense, self-sufficient 
industrial centre, full of friendliness and short of men. 
What I had been doing was known ; what my training had 
been was not. So I polished my Sam Browne, attended to 
my saluting and let them speak for me. I was determined 
not to be stuck in an office. 

First we tried to get into commandos, then still in their 


infancy, and were frankly told that bath chairs were not 
included in their transport. They were right, of course, but 
it was a shock. I did not like being forced to consider the 
fact that in another month I should be forty. After a year 
in Roumania I thought myself fully capable of drinking 
commando or commanded under whatever table there 
might be, and of carrying on subtle and destructive war- 
fare from any mountain-top. It did not occur to me that I 
was rather less capable of climbing there than I had been, 
seven years earlier, upon Hymettus. 

Green in his explorations — eventually leading him to 
control of refugees, for which his imaginative kindness and 
instinctive understanding of eccentric mentalities perfectly 
fitted him — discovered the existence of something called 
Field Security, and recommended it to me. It sounded 
congenial — the only branch of Intelligence in which a 
free-lance could enjoy the care and companionship of a 
unit under his own command. 

I called at Field Security Headquarters and was inter- 
viewed by the Commandant, Robin Wordsworth — an 
amateur like myself, chosen for his excellent Arabic and 
his experience of administration in the Sudan, who had 
been for a year or two before the war a Dorset farmer. He 
had a welcoming face, burnt by the desert as by his own 
concealed emotions, which was attractive to men and even 
more to women. He was in urgent need of officers with 
languages, and took me on with no apparent hesitation. 
I was supposed to attend a security course of three weeks 
at the depot. I never did. Even as a security officer it was 
my fate to be taught by experience. 

A few days after I had, in principle, joined, I was 
hanging about the Commandant's office and reading all 
the manuals and directives on the functions of I (b) : the 
defence, that is, of the army against the enemy agent. An 
exclamatory conversation was going on between Robin 


and his adjutant on the utter impossibility of finding an 
officer to take a Field Security Section to Greece at short 
notice. I proposed myself. At least I knew my way about 
Athens, could read a menu in Greek and choose from it 
intelligently. Within a week of landing at Alexandria I 
found myself back there, but now bivouacked on the sands 
to the south of the city with my tiny independent command 
around me in the darkness. Here at last was fulfilment. 

To right and left of us were other small units or detach- 
ments under other junior officers. We were settling down 
to open tins when some Poles appeared out of the night 
and told us that a hot meal was ready in their camp if the 
men would come up with their mess-tins, and that they 
would be honoured if the officers would dine with them in 
mess. That was typical of Poles. I doubt if any British unit 
would have been so generous. Hospitality to casual visitors 
was normal, but hospitality to two or three hundred could 
never be explained on paper. It occurred to me much later 
that the Poles had impulsively driven a most improper 
hole through the security of our move. We had not been 
mysteriously left on the dark sands for nothing. 

The next day we were shipped to the Piraeus on the 
Australian cruiser Sydney, then covered with glory from a 
successful action in the Mediterranean. I was alarmed to 
find myself the senior captain on board, and therefore 
O.C. troops. But the centuries-old routine of this — to me — 
astonishing organisation, the Army, could deal at once 
with a situation so preposterous. Where there was an O.G., 
it appeared there had to be an adjutant. To appoint one 
who had travelled out to the Middle East in a troopship 
and had some idea what duties devolved upon an O.C. 
troops was my first and only responsibility. I was installed 
with some state in the Captain's day cabin — he himself 
sleeping on the bridge — where I learned in peace the 
lecture notes of the course I had not attended, and at 


intervals wandered round the mess decks with my adjutant, 
looking, I hoped, benevolent. 

Arrived in Athens, it was immediately obvious that 
nobody knew what Field Security was for, nor how it 
should be used. That was often so in the early days of war, 
and the general ignorance tended to make a section self- 
reliant and to weld it into a unit of enthusiastic specialists. 
We ourselves knew exactly what we were for, and how to 
sell our services to the doubtful or unwilling. 

A Field Security Section consisted of an officer, a 
sergeant-major and twelve N.C.Os. Its transport was a 
truck and thirteen motor-cycles; its armament fourteen 
pistols and a typewriter; its other lethal weapons, its com- 
forts, its blankets and its furniture, when it had any, were 
whatever it could more or less legally acquire. Being all 
men of a type to accept life as they found it, under the 
guidance of a sergeant-major chosen for his knowledge of 
army routine, a section prided itself on taking intelligent 
advantage of the military passion for papers and was 
hardly ever at a loss to account for its cherished, corporate 

The primary duty of an F.S. section was to take pre- 
cautions for the security of the division or corps to which 
it was attached — which meant in practice discreet super- 
vision of all civilians with whom the formation came in 
contact, and, after successful action, the policing of enemy 
territory until the arrival of trained administrators. We 
also had to investigate leakages of information, deliberate 
or accidental, which could be an unpleasant duty. But 
serious cases were very rare, and security was more soundly 
assured by lectures and friendly contacts than by officious 
action. I do not think we were ever unpopular among the 
troops of the Middle East. Plain common sense showed 
that the protection we tried to give was necessary. 

Instead of attachment to corps or division, a section 


could be posted to a capital, a port, a frontier or any 
district where the curiosity of enemy intelligence was likely 
to be active. This was far more interesting work than pure 
military security, for the section became the eyes, ears, 
languages and mobile reserve of I (b). It had nothing 
whatever to do with the employment of spies or the col- 
lection of information from enemy territory. 

The section which left for Athens at the beginning of 
November 1940 was military, and attached to a force 
under R.A.F. command. After the Italian attack on 
October 28, five British squadrons were sent to the help of 
the Greeks together with port operating companies and 
detachments of all the base services. My duty was to look 
after the more elementary points of their security in a 
country which was not at war with Germany, where 
German agents, diplomatic or not, were therefore free 
from interference. It was a very limited freedom — as ours 
had been in Roumania — for the Greek secret police under 
the dictatorship of Metaxas were subtle and active. 

I found that Lord Forbes, the Air Attache in Bucharest, 
had flowered into a Wing-Commander and was the senior 
intelligence officer on the R.A.F. staff, so I decided that he 
should give us our orders and receive our reports. This was, 
in fact, partly correct, but I should also have been report- 
ing to my Area Commander. He accepted my word that 
such a course would be most irregular. 

That was a pity, for when in later years I came under 
Colonel Robinson in Beirut and Amman he handled his 
Field Security with a lovely light rein. Perhaps, uncon- 
sciously, I taught him; and he, in return, taught me how 
the Regular Army expressed its most violent feelings with- 
out ever, for one moment, being impolite. 

I cannot remember why it was that we could never get 
an efficient guard on the Area Headquarters building. 
Certainly the fault was mine; but I was then too inexperi- 


enced to be able to afford that confident geniality which 
comes from a knowledge of the powers one has but does 
not use. Finally, to force the issue, one of my over-keen 
N.G.Os entered the building in civilian clothes, wandered 
where he would and stole the Area Commander's current 
correspondence off his desk — none of it, somewhat to his 
disappointment, secret. 

I thoroughly disapproved, but the wretched act was 
written down as permissible. So next morning I called with 
an apology to return the evidence that a proper guard was 
essential. The Area Commander was out and I was not 
prepared to hand back his papers to anyone else. I went 
off for the morning to visit my detachments and when I 
came back the correspondence had been missed and the 
world alerted. 

With the now useless apology I presented myself. Clear- 
eyed, without passion, artistically, Robinson summed me 
up and lectured me. He quite understood, he said, the 
difficulty of my duties, but if security units were to wear 
the uniform of the Army and be considered part of it, they 
should share its standards, perhaps old-fashioned, of 
gentlemanly behaviour. I heartily agreed, but could not 
say so without putting the blame on a subordinate. When 
I had recovered my equanimity in the nearest bar — for I 
had never been on the mat before and was utterly terrified 
— I decided again that I liked the Army. This was not the 
verbal murder I expected, but more resembled a difference 
of opinion forcibly expressed. 

Athens was a wonderful school in which to learn the 
procedure and customs of the military, for it was a GHQ 
in miniature, containing detachments of almost every 
branch. With this free staff course going on outside the 
office, and, inside it, my old Cornish sergeant-major with 
years of experience in the Military Police, I no longer had 
to fall back on guesses. By Christmas I felt pretty confident 


that I knew the ways of this hierarchical, socialist com- 
munity, and that if a great many years of my life were 
destined to be spent in it, as seemed highly probable in 
those days when Russia was still an unfriendly neutral and 
America an unlikely ally, there was no reason at all why 
they should not be enjoyable. 

The biggest daily job was the security of the airfields 
against sabotage or too close observation, and the protec- 
tion of the crews from the results of their uninhibited 
gossip. They were out night after night in their old Blen- 
heims and Gladiators and when they were not they would 
relax in the Athens cabarets. As soon as the young 
Squadron-Leaders realised that we were starry-eyed in 
admiration, well understanding that long hours of ironic 
conversation with death demanded an easier listener, they 
gave us wonderful co-operation. The R.A.F. officer has 
always seemed to me a better psychologist than his counter- 
part in Army or Navy. I suppose he has to be. The spirit of 
the individual is so important to him and so much more 

There was, however, a line of defence more reliable than 
fatherly talks: control of the cabaret entertainers. This was 
done by the Greek police, and mercilessly. The contacts of 
the artiste were watched day and night; the poor girl had 
to choose between enforced virginity and an official pro- 
tector. The protectorate was a closed shop, and Field 
Security was not eligible. 

Athens was a clumsy and difficult town for any such 
amusements. When our little force arrived, hospitality was 
overwhelming. To pay for a drink in a tavern was nearly 
impossible, and the troops were freely invited to Greek 
homes. They were not so over-civilised as to consider 
Greek womanhood a trifle primitive. On the contrary, 
they found the girls feminine, gay and virtuous. Sometimes 
they fell in love and pestered their commanding officers 


for permission to marry; sometimes they indulged in 
simple preliminaries which would appear quite innocuous 
at home, and were beaten up by soldier brothers. 

Even Colonel Xenos, a formidable figure who held the 
whole of Greek security in his hands and had under the 
Metaxas dictatorship heaven-only-knew what powers of 
death and exile, was puzzled and embarrassed by the 
problem and used hesitatingly to discuss it with me. Not 
only did the Greeks, in peacetime, have a puritanism 
which elevated the virginity of a girl and the fidelity of a 
wife into symbols of inhuman importance, but they 
honestly felt that in their country's extremity any indul- 
gence of the flesh was wrong. The army, fighting in 
conditions of desperate cold and discDmfort on the moun- 
tains of Albania, heard rumours of our luxurious living in 
Athens and reacted exactly as our own men in 1 944 who, 
when they had not seen their wives or girl-friends for five 
years, read of the exploits of highly-paid American and 
Canadian troops in Britain. But the Greeks did more than 
grumble. When the bachelors came down on leave from 
Albania, they swore to have no pleasure that was unattain- 
able for their comrades. And, by God, most of them kept 
their word! 

Requests for reasonable facilities for the troops were 
considered improper, and matters which could have been 
smoothly arranged in western Europe remained a cause of 
mutual embarrassment. Allied relations had begun with a 
difficult incident. To find room for headquarters and base 
units, schools, hotels and public buildings had been 
emptied in a hurry. Among the latter was a hospital for 
the ladies of the town. It did indeed form an excellent 
billet; but the Greeks, in their passion of welcome and 
patriotism, had not considered the effects of letting the 
ladies loose on the streets. Thereafter both sides were 


inclined to preserve a more than Victorian reticence about 
the facts of life. 

All this straightforward military security — women, 
waiters, civilian employees, strangers hanging about 
Piraeus docks for no good reason, or questioning British 
troops with native Greek inquisitiveness which was almost 
certainly innocent but might not be — kept me busy con- 
sulting and contributing to the files of the Defence Security 
Officer — a civilian — and of the Greek police. 

Among the police themselves there was conflict. Some 
admired the professionalism and liberty of action of the 
Gestapo — an admiration which is common and perhaps 
inevitable in those responsible for the security of any 
strong central government, though usually unspoken ex- 
cept in drink. Others concerned themselves as little as 
possible with current politics and gave a straight loyalty 
to the Crown. A third party- -and they of course were the 
most pro-British — loathed Metaxas with good liberal exag- 
geration of his comparatively mild and few iniquities. 
They were the best contacts and informants of my men, 
who were consequently troubled in mind. They had 
enlisted to destroy fascism in all its forms, and found them- 
selves in fact collaborating with the secret police of a 
dictator. I had to impress upon them that if the devil were 
fighting Mussolini, the devil and no one else was our ally. 

Though a mere observer of the intrigues, I was some- 
times considered a person able to influence events and 
liable to take an interest in Greek politics. It was no use to 
insist that I knew nothing of politics and was only a junior 
officer in command of a handful of military specialists; I 
was still expected to keep up the Compton Mackenzie 
tradition. My profession had nothing to do with it. That 
was unknown, and almost forgotten by myself. It was just 
that Greeks always tend to hysteria in their view of Intelli- 
gence. In spite of the fact that I had no money to pay 


agents and, if I had, no notion of what to do with them, 
even I, in rare moments of depression, could think of 
myself as a spider in the centre of a web. But the clear sky 
of day and the heartening and bitter retsina of the nights 
never failed to convince me that in reality I barged through 
webs without seeing that they were there, and that I had 
no more ability to build one than a bluebottle. 

No secrets, then? None at all in what we did. We were 
never nearer the heart of things than supplying guards on 
the Legation for the visits of Eden, Wavell and Wilson. In 
what we knew, however, there had to be much that was 
highly confidential — not such a mass in Athens as later, 
for Field Security was still considered to have more affi- 
nities with the Military Police than with Intelligence. But 
even then it occurred to me that the variety of information 
known to each F.S. officer — and never discussed unless in 
the way of duty among ourselves — was quite extraordinary. 
Nobody wanted to give it to us, but there was often no 
alternative. When you are the sole person who can 
produce a silent and reliable N.G.O. as an escort or a 
messenger, and when you are controlling the exits and 
entrances by a port or frontier, the wheels of Intelligence 
cannot run smoothly without telling you when to look 
the other way. You may not always know the why, 
but you must know the who and where and — sometimes 
most secret of all — by whose orders. In my four years' 
experience I never remember a case where this confidence 
was abused. 

About half the personnel of F.S. was drawn from com- 
merce, teaching, journalism, the law, the stock exchange : 
men of education with languages or experience which 
specially fitted them for the work. In those early days pro- 
motion from lance-corporal to lieutenant and then to 
captain could be very rapid. We also had a stiffening of 
regular soldiers, some of them from the Military Police. As 


a general rule they were not much use on any Intelligence 
duties except routine controls; their years of training, 
however, were invaluable in any emergency, whether the 
section was operating under conditions of discomfort or of 
actual danger. 

Besides these, we had a sprinkling of men who had lived 
in the Middle East and enlisted there, speakers of Greek, 
Arabic and Italian. We could never make soldiers of them 
— for we had not the time or the technique — but if they 
could be trusted to work alone and did not take too 
romantic a view of themselves, they were the most useful 
of us all. Other branches of Intelligence had a deplorable 
habit of stealing them for their own mysterious purposes, 
and we could seldom get them back. 

We were never too military, and discipline was informal. 
When we did go through the traditional motions of 
parades and inspections, we performed them in a spirit of 
holiday — for the close, mutual trust between the section 
and its officer made the continual practice of obedience so 
obviously unnecessary. Daily relations in a crack section 
between the Field Security Officer and his N.G.Os much 
resembled those between a fatherly sales manager and his 
salesmen. But each section had its own individual character. 
In some the smartness of the men — when they were in 
uniform — and the atmosphere of the section office were 
reasonably regimental; in others the place looked and 
sounded like a salesman's office in Soho. And these were 
sometimes the best when it came to the real job of detecting 
enemy agents. 

Our fairly leisurely Athenian life came to an end in 
early March when the British, Australian and New Zealand 
expeditionary force began to arrive at the Piraeus. The 
camps sprang up under the olive trees of Attica, and the 
German diplomats, whose forces were poised on the Bul- 
garian frontier and ready to strike, naturally showed an 


interest in the enemy. The most glorious row I ever was in 
occurred when I was ordered to send a motor-cyclist to 
tail the German Minister's car and report what he did. 

I put the N.G.O. in uniform. It still seems to me sensible. 
If the Minister, pretending to be a nice, kind uncle, were 
to talk to any of the troops, my man had only to warn them 
who he was. But apparently I should have put him in plain 
clothes and, by not doing so, had caused a diplomatic 
incident. Rockets from the diplomats descended upon the 
staff, and were passed on to me. I should certainly have 
been sent back to Egypt in disgrace if Colonel Xenos had 
not stood up for me. It was pleasant to know that the 
liaison between a junior captain and this powerful servant 
of the King had been friendly and useful enough to cause 
him to intervene. 

On April 6 the Germans attacked, and with Yugoslavia 
overrun there was never a hope of holding them. The 
Military Mission which had been in Athens since the 
autumn knew that defeat was certain, though preserving 
in public set smiles of triumph and confidence. The plan- 
ners in Cairo had done their loyal best to prevent any such 
pessimism gaining ground — and certainly it never reached 
the formations — but why they should have assumed that 
their colleagues in Athens with the same evidence in front 
of them would not come to the same conclusion I have 
never been able to understand. 

If our history of the last sixty years could be plotted as a 
graph, the Greek disaster would fit neatly into the ever- 
recurring conflict between political idealism and the facts 
of power. To the microcosmic England of myself — at bot- 
tom far more typical of my countrymen than it pleases me 
to think — the conflict was as plain as in any leading article. 
I suppose it is now pretty generally agreed that our action 
in Greece had no effect whatever on the course of the war, 
and that the suggestion that it delayed Hitler's attack on 


Russia is an excuse which will not hold water for a 
moment. Yet I am proud and I was proud then that we 
had permitted generosity, whether real or a political ges- 
ture, to overcome common sense. The value of the expedi- 
tion, if it had any, was at bottom religious. It emphasised 
the fact that th^ British Commonwealth, now forced into a 
long, savage war of national defence, had at first intended 
and still intended a crusade. 

The night after the declaration of war the German air 
force struck at the Piraeus with overwhelming physical and 
psychological effect. The bomb damage itself was by no 
means irreparable, but a lucky hit was scored on an 
ammunition ship. Attempts to tow her out failed. Alongside 
her was a loaded train. What good Field Security thought 
it could do at the docks I cannot imagine, but the tradition 
was growing that, like newspapermen, we ought to be on 
the spot and able to report first-hand anything of interest 
to security. The troops and the crews had been evacuated 
from the port. The ambulances had come and gone. 
The Area Commander — another one, this — was strolling 
casually through the dust with his cane under his arm and 
his monocle in his eye. He seemed to think we had done 
well to come, but would be wise to go. Half an hour after 
we left, the ship blew up depositing her bows, on an even 
keel, in a little public garden two miles away, where, 
bronzed by fire, they looked like a memorial to lost 
mariners by an over-realistic sculptor. 

The Greek armies in Albania collapsed and disinte- 
grated. They were worn out. For six months they had 
exposed to the whole world the emptiness of Mussolini's 
claim to have made of Italy a great military power. 
Humiliated before his allies and enemies, he had con- 
tinually employed fresh reserves out of all proportion to 
the importance of the campaign; and still the Greeks held 
or advanced. But there was nothing left, in material or 


human spirit, with which to form a new front against the 

I had watched the Greek civil and military refugees 
pouring back into Athens by the Eleusis road, and given 
hospitality to odd N.C.Os of the divisional sections who 
had become hopelessly separated from their units and 
ridden back to Athens for orders. I knew, too, that the 
more mysterious purveyors of Intelligence, who always 
appeared to place an excitable value on their lives, had 
secretly embarked for Egypt. But I could not really believe 
that final defeat was immediate and present in the room 
until on April 24 Patrick Wilson, son of the Commander- 
in-Chief, told me to take my section west, and to keep a 
professional eye on the security of the vital bridge over the 
Corinth Canal and the beaches near Megara where an 
Australian division would be embarked. That done, I was 
free to get the section out when and where I could. 

We left Athens in the late afternoon. The road from 
Megara to Corinth, cut into the escarpment between hills 
and the sea, was a first taste of war. There was no cover, 
and plenty of evidence that it was visited by enemy air- 
craft. Our little convoy of a truck and thirteen motor- 
cycles lost no time in reaching the flatter coast beyond, 
and bivouacked for the night. 

In the morning I left detachments at the embarkation 
beach and the canal bridge, and took half the section to 
Nauplion. On the way we passed the ruins of Mycenae 
and, since our timetable was our own, it seemed a pity 
not to visit them. The official guide was delighted to have 
work. As a servant of history, he was entirely undisturbed 
by transient accidents upon the distant road and in the 
sky. Far too overwhelmed by the present was a party of 
Greek air force mechanics and ground staff who cowered 
in the beehive tomb of Agamemnon. They too were living 


in a world of their imagination, but he who had only the 
lions upon the grey gate to guard him was the happier. 

Late that evening I was back at the beach, to learn that 
the Australians had come and gone without embarking. 
All that was left of them was a mad private who, it was 
said, had chased the beachmaster over the sands and caused 
some alarm to his staff before it withdrew to launches and 
the horizon. The private was still firing shots and chasing 
the ghosts of beachmasters through the scrub, but that was 
no reason for not getting some sleep. 

I shall never forget the quality of peace in that still 
night as I lay on soft gravel in my sleeping-bag. I cannot 
explain it. Rest in the open air of April Greece? An aware- 
ness of romance due to too much reading of boy's stories at 
too early an age? The feeling that as a close-knit unit we 
were equal to anything which routine duty or own safety 
might demand? It was peace such as a shepherd might feel 
when the dust had settled, and the raiders who had 
dismounted and drunk at his well were gone. 

At dawn the mad private, delighted to find that his 
peace, at any rate, was shared, disturbed us with random 
fire. It was difficult to know what to do with him, for he 
did not seem amenable to my scientific and Marina-like 
approach. One of my sergeants, rising hastily from his 
blankets, had stuffed his .38 pistol into his trousers pocket. 
Endeavouring to draw it — an unnecessary gesture since 
my own was already backing up psychiatry — he shot him- 
self through the foot. Bloodshed seemed at once to recall 
to the soldier his normal life of the previous weeks, and 
he willingly consented to be handed over to some passing 

The vital bridge was now in the hands of the sappers 
who were to blow it up, so I collected my detachment and 
took the road to Nauplion. Memory refuses to distinguish 
between this and the previous day, offering only random 


events. A Greek youth shot clean through the middle of 
the neck from right to left, and apparently none the worse 
for it. Mile after mile of burning and abandoned transport. 
A formal request from the section that they would be 
vastly obliged if I would stand up in the truck and spot for 
them since they could not hear the noise of planes above 
the roar of their motor-cycles — a point which would have 
occurred to any properly trained soldier. The dive- 
bombing of my truck outside Corinth when the driver and 
I took refuge beneath it and he, who was a regular soldier, 
remembered too late that it was the worst place to be. The 
wish, unique in my life, that I had filled my immense and 
irregular bottle with water instead of whisky and water. It 
was a fair sample of life, a rushing eagerly hither and yon 
to objectives which in reality were of such little importance 
that memory rejects any logical sequence for them. 

The whole section was reunited at Nauplion, a little 
town still shivering from the unexpected impact of war 
where the main street was a gravel-bed of broken glass 
which crunched under foot. A plume of smoke rising above 
low hills marked where the s.s. Ulster Prince had gone 
aground in the channel and was burning. The troops 
which should have embarked in her were scattered around 
the town, and their officers were summoned to a con- 
ference which I attended. I knew none of them, nor the 
commander of the force. 

The conference was told that there was no longer any 
hope of getting off from Nauplion, and that the ultimate 
destination would probably be Kalamai in the south of the 
Peloponnese. This seemed to be a good tip for masterless 
men, though I doubted if our worn transport would stand 
some eighty miles of night driving over rough roads. 

I returned to the lane where the section was waiting for 
me and explained that we had finished our duties — unless 
something unexpected turned up — and that our return to 


Egypt depended on our own endurance and ingenuity. We 
destroyed all our baggage, and started off with the truck 
empty except for the impulsive sergeant. He was in good 
enough form for the journey, since his bullet, by astonish- 
ing luck, had passed between two toe bones without 
shattering either of them. 

The road was mountainous, and as we were driving 
without lights the surface seemed worse than it really was. 
One by one, like the ten little nigger boys, either a man or 
his motor-cycle gave up. The first went into the truck, the 
second into the ravine which was always on one side or the 
other of the road. We did not meet or pass a soul, and how 
I found the way I cannot imagine. Possibly my mind was 
so concentrated on map-reading as to exclude my usual 
optimistic turnings ; more probably the road led to Kala- 
mai and nowhere else. The last motor-cycle was hurled to 
destruction, and then we were all in the fifteen-hundred- 
weight truck with enough petrol but very little oil. It crept 
gallantly on until we ran into the tail of an Australian 
convoy, hopelessly jammed outside Kalamai with dawn an 
hour away. 

An Australian Field Security Section was helping the 
military police to sort out the traffic. I learned from my 
opposite number that this was the Australian division 
which should have been taken off from the Megara 
beaches, that it was trying to disperse under the olives 
before dawn and that if it could not and the movement 
was spotted by enemy aircraft, heaven help any ships 
which tried to evacuate us! Our own fighter squadrons 
had been finished long since. 

Nose to tail, in two lanes, the vehicles crept up the main 
street of Kalamai. It seemed an interminably long street. 
Seeing a narrow gap between two houses where it was 
unlikely that a truck could be spotted from the air, we 
turned into it and stopped. It was broad daylight, but the 


stream of traffic had now thinned to small convoys racing 
for cover. It cannot have been more than five minutes 
after the road was clear and innocent that an enemy plane 
came over and circled like a hopeful vulture. The entire 
division held its breath lest some fool of a battery com- 
mander should open up. There was in fact one single shot. 
It sounded like the beginning of a conversation suddenly 
suppressed. The German observer must have seen that 
there was a scattering of troops, but nothing to suggest the 
presence of a division. 

We slept for a couple of hours in a ploughed field 
behind the houses. The behaviour of the Greeks reached 
an unbelievable ideal of allied conduct. Neither here nor 
on the road did we hear a word of reproach. They were 
confident that we should return victorious, having as little 
forethought as ourselves of that commonplace of folk-lore 
that when the devil is down he merely changes, Nazi to 
Communist, his shape. A kindly villager brought us bread 
hot from the oven; another brought wine. Those who had 
nothing — and they were many, for there would be little 
food in Greece when our abandoned rations were finished 
— gave praise and sympathy. 

I set out refreshed to explore the area, and discovered a 
considerable British force — base units which had gone 
straight from Athens to Kalamai some days before — with 
many officers whom I knew. They were pessimistic. Since 
they had no arms but rifles and the Germans were already 
in the Peloponnese, the only prospect was ignominious 
surrender. They seemed to know little or nothing of the 
presence of the Australians. 

Under the circumstances it was the obvious duty of the 
section to take to the hills or find its own transport to 
Crete. We disliked capture as much as anyone else, and 
the prospect of being interrogated rather more — though in 
fact it turned out, when in later campaigns the occasional 


Field Security N.C.O. was put in the bag, that the enemy 
treated us correctly and as any other prisoners-of-war. I 
went down to the port with a Greek-speaking N.C.O. who 
was a master of the long, unhurried negotiation of the 
Levant, and we found a tug-boat captain who himself was 
willing to run for Crete rather than work for the Germans, 
but warned us that his engineer would never agree. 

This was a challenge to the section's enterprise. Con- 
tinual contact, on the tug and in the cafes, kept up the 
captain's courage and prevented him changing his mind. 
Another Greek-speaker investigated, without arousing sus- 
picion, the opinions of the engineer and the harbourmaster. 
A third detachment circulated among the British troops 
with orders to find one or two who could stoke and run a 
marine steam-engine, and to be professionally mysterious 
about their motives. 

I still mourn for my requisitioned tug-boat upon the 
high seas — although, to judge by what happened to those 
who escaped in boats which offered a still smaller target, 
we should have reached Crete in the dinghy or not at all. 
Later in the day my sergeant-major, who always believed 
in comfort, discovered the top-secret information that the 
Division were to be taken off after dark. He suggested that 
we should do a little port security work and be taken off as 

My conscience was not altogether happy about this. I 
felt that we ought to stay with our own people. On the 
other hand I could not deny that I was perfectly prepared 
to leave them by tug. Manifestly my attitude stank of 
pretences, especially since I had permission to get the 
section away when and where I could. So, with a sense of 
anticlimax, we patrolled the quays and, as soon as there 
seemed to be a shortage of Australians, embarked in the 
tender ourselves. 

The next night there was an attempt to evacuate the 


British which failed because the Germans were already in 
the port. It was certainly wise to give priority to a first- 
class fighting division, whether British or Australian, but I 
see no reason why some of those defenceless base units on 
the hillside could not at least have stood in a queue. On 
our own ship, a liner of over ten thousand tons, there was 
room to spare. 

I had expected — having heard of such things in the 
first war — to have some trouble on paper with my sergeant's 
self-inflicted wound. But of course there was none. My 
statement that it was an accident was at once accepted and 
recorded. When we were all comfortable I went to my 
luxurious bunk in a cabin for two. And there were only 
two in it. 

In the morning I saw that we were one of a convoy of 
four big ships with destroyer escort. I do not know whether 
the other three had embarked their troops at Kalamai or 
elsewhere. For the rest of the forenoon I was somewhat 
preoccupied by the reverberation of metal. While dream- 
ing in a delicious bath, walls, pipes and tub were suddenly 
turned into a cacophonous iron drum. Leaping into the 
passage, I found myself among other naked, soapy and 
enquiring officers. We were on the whole reassured to be 
told that the shock to our innocence was only a near miss 
from a bomb. The same thing happened after breakfast 
when again meditating, though now not prostrate but 
enthroned, the pipe connecting me with the outer world 
appeared to be hit by something the size of a minor planet. 
I decided to spend the rest of the day in whatever softly 
padded saloon there might be. 

On deck the Australian machine-gunners were having 
the time of their lives. I saw them bring down one bomber, 
and they claimed two more. So far as small arms were 
concerned, the fire power of that ship was terrific and must 
have startled the enemy pilots. But those of us who were 


not serving a weapon were not allowed to watch ; when the 
next wave came over, we were lined up in an alleyway, 
three decks down, to stand and listen. Although my con- 
versation was cool and my face, I trust, casual, I found 
that my knees were gently and imperceptibly knocking 
together and that the cliche of the fiction writers was true. 
Ever since I have considered that the highest courage is 
that of engine-room staff who go about their business when 
the enemy is kettle-drumming upon the thin steel which 
separates them from the sea. 

One of the convoy broke her back, but the destroyers 
saved every man on board her before she split in half and 
sank. The rest were hardly damaged and, next morning, 
out of range. 

Back in Cairo it was considered that our escape not only 
accorded with standards of common sense but with those 
of military panache. As I wished to be credited with the 
first and nothing would have induced me to confess, at the 
age of forty, to a preference for the second, that was satis- 
factory. I spent a few lonely days of leave at Port Said, 
missing the section and looking forward with the eternal 
hope of the predatory male to sentimental companionship 
— which did indeed surprisingly offer itself, but I could not 
find a word to say to the girl. There is nothing so destruc- 
tive of desire as to be bored by the artificiality of one's own 

The next job was the most exhausting upon which I 
have ever had to concentrate. Thousands of refugees had 
escaped by sea from Greece to Egypt — civilians, military 
in civilian clothes, foreigners of doubtful antecedents, 
Sephardic Jews resident in Salonica whose ancestors had 
been expelled from Spain, Aschkenazy Jews driven on 
from country to country by Hitler's advance, policemen 
with democratic sympathies or now frantically pretending 
them, cabaret girls, honest peasant families who had fled 


in such momentary hysteria of panic that they were dis- 
tressingly vague as to how they had managed it or at what 
port, or country even, they had arrived. Some ingenious 
and original organiser had housed the Cairo herd in the 
Agricultural Hall. Each stall, intended for prize cow or 
Arab stallion, held a group of men or women or an entire 
family. The building was immense and — for Egypt in May 
— cool. It was designed for the tidy distribution of rations 
and medicaments, whether by stud grooms or by the Army, 
and water was laid on in every stall. The sanitary arrange- 
ments, though quite satisfactory for animals and the smaller 
refugees, were all that had to be improvised. 

To sort out this mass by preliminary interrogation into 
individuals with a name and a past was my job. It went on 
for a fortnight in which the shortest day was twelve hours. 
I had the loan of Greek-speakers from the Field Security 
depot, and I myself worked through relays of interpreters 
chosen from such Greek soldiers and police as were 
obviously reliable and spoke one of my languages. I could 
understand enough Greek to appreciate the main points 
of a story and to ask a very simple question, but no more. 

Hardest to bear were the well-meaning efforts of British 
business and diplomatic wives, determined to be angels of 
mercy and always making pets of the more plausible and 
doubtful characters. But that is one of the curses laid upon 
security officers; I had already experienced it in Athens 
where my efforts to prevent society women whom I knew to 
be pro-German from visiting British hospitals and soldiers' 
clubs were pilloried as narrow-minded. I have no doubt 
that in a time of emergency and among any cultured and 
merciful people security must give way to charity; but one 
should also put a penny in the box for the security officer 
who will not forgive himself nor be forgiven if the enemy 
agent slips through too easily. 

That done, I was invited to run a Greek bureau in 


Security Intelligence Middle East. I did not feel, however, 
that I had charged into this fascinating life in order to sit 
in an office and file the political aberrations of Greeks. I 
wanted to be out and about again with a section. My 
choice, from the point of view of military ambition, was 
foolish. But I was determined to enjoy my war in my own 

Robin Wordsworth offered me the Jerusalem section, 
which was a little uncertain what it was doing or why it 
was supposed to be doing it. When I had been in the Holy 
City a couple of weeks I was uncertain too. I (b) was 
unique for jealous stupidity. If I wanted information from 
headquarters files, I could only get it by persistence. The 
alternative was to get it from Palestine Police — if one did 
not mind being suspected of intending to sell it to Jew or 

But certainly the section had not created confidence 
around itself, and was not to be compared with my bril- 
liant Greek section. It was one of the first to be formed and 
contained too many ex-regulars who had transferred to 
Field Security at a time when we were ready to accept 
anyone with a trustworthy record but few other qualifi- 
cations ; and it was influenced by the military police, who 
always judged a man's keenness on his ability to 'bring 
cases.' There was, however, one compensation: the best 
sergeant-major I ever had. He had been a Lincolnshire 
gamekeeper, and only wanted an employer who knew his 
own mind. That section, when we had trimmed it to shape, 
began to resemble in tone some remote English village. It 
was cunning rather than intelligent, cynical, outrageously 
cheerful at parties or under stress, and rich with hidden 
tenderness in unexpected places. 

Meanwhile, expecting a long stay in Jerusalem, I made 


myself comfortable. A Field Security Officer, unless with a 
formation, was not obliged or encouraged to live in a mess. 
It was a preposterous ruling, founded on the idea that he 
might be called upon to investigate the indiscretions of a 
brother officer. If he ever did, the mess and the brother 
officer would have been the last persons to know anything 
about it. But of course we fostered the delusion for all it 
was worth, since it allowed us to live on a civilian standard. 
A safe rule for the traveller was to choose the hotel where 
the Field Security Officer stayed. It was sure to be cheap 
and to have food which, however exotic to British tastes, 
was highly edible. 

I quickly discovered that Jerusalem hotels, with the 
exception of the too expensive King David, were dull. 
Those with Jewish proprietors were too redolent of 
Central Europe. Those with Arab proprietors ran to hot 
sweet puddings, suet and other delights of the colonial 
service. There was nothing for it but to take a flat, and so, 
answering an advertisement, I fell in with a delightful 
person of about my own age who had come as a child from 
Poland to Palestine, studied philosophy under Croce in 
Italy and spoke the only Hebrew I ever heard which was 
not harsh to the ear. Haim Wardi had converted an old 
Arab stable into a cool one-room house, packed with 
books, At the bottom of his garden was a much smaller 
one-room house. This I took, and furnished it with the 
barest necessities, painted grey, and two Bokhara rugs. It 
successfully combined military and aesthetic severity. 

But it was not the time for this personal armistice. Truer 
fulfilment, considering my environment and its oppor- 
tunities, was to exercise such powers of creation as I had 
in wide human relationships rather than in a miniature 
setting for them. And I was swiftly hurled into a position 
where harmony had to be made from the raw materials of 
hatred and malice, without even a little decent human 


envy to lighten the mixture. I was ordered to Beirut to take 
over the security of the docks during the evacuation of the 
Vichy troops. 

They were the Army of the Levant in which we had 
placed all our hopes during the early Roumanian days. 
Disillusioned, sullen and isolated from home, they accepted 
the defeat of France and obeyed the Vichy government of 
Petain which was still administering the mandated terri- 
tories of Syria and the Lebanon. Relations with the British 
were correct and, on the Palestine frontier, by no means 
cold. Middle East Command, already engaged to the last 
man and vehicle in the desert, Abyssinia and Greece, had 
no wish whatever for added trouble in Syria. 

When, however, Rashid Ali's revolt of May 1941 broke 
out in Iraq, he was assisted by German aircraft. Dentz, the 
French commander-in-chief, permitted the refuelling of 
the aircraft in Syria and even supplied the rebels with 
French arms. This was a most dangerous threat to the 
garrison of the Middle East, then, though we did not feel 
it, a besieged army, for it could turn our whole position 
and cut off the vital Iraqi oil supplies as well. 

The intentions of the enemy were obvious, and there 
was nothing for it but to occupy Syria and the Lebanon 
before he did. Operations began on June 9, 1941. 
Fighting was hard and for the first week or two critical, 
but the common tradition of military politeness — chivalry 
is too delicate a word for modern weapons — was on the 
whole preserved, since aggressors and defenders under- 
stood each others' motives. The campaign ended with the 
armistice of July 14, under the terms of which we agreed 
to repatriate the Vichy troops by sea to France with the 
honours of war. That trumpet phrase of heraldry meant in 
practice that every officer and man should march on board 
with his personal arms. Also I think — for words are still 
magic — it enforced an eighteenth-century standard of 


courtesy upon the victors and preserved the pride of the 
gallantly defeated. 

But ease was bedevilled by the Free French, though not 
for a moment can they be blamed. They insisted that the 
mandated territories were not ours to occupy, and were 
quite unimpressed by our offer of independence for Syria 
and a qualified independence for the Lebanon. De Gaulle 
did not so much distrust our intentions as our ability, in 
the stress of war and the confusion of peace, ever to carry 
them out. He was, of course, right. Even assuming that we 
had held the territories in trust and formally returned them 
to France after the war, the Arabs themselves, as later they 
did, would have demanded an end to foreign tutelage. If 
French influence was to survive at all, French participation 
in the campaign and the continuity of French adminis- 
tration were essential. 

The intervention of de Gaulle and his handful of 
fanatical gallants might reasonably have been expected to 
limit the fighting and to make surrender more palatable 
for the Army of the Levant. It did not. It poisoned all 
negotiations with the bitterness of civil war. The Free 
French needed both troops and administrators. They 
therefore demanded and obtained the right to canvass the 
defeated Vichy army, coercing every officer and man to 
opt for repatriation or enlistment under the cross of de 
Gaulle with no alternative. They obtained only five 
thousand out of thirty-seven thousand. Humiliated by 
failure, they tried every trick of Gaullist intransigence to 
delay the embarkation. Each side accused the other of 
betraying France. Both appealed to the British for 

That was the position when I arrived in Beirut at the 
beginning of August. The Free French prowled around the 
Vichy camps in some danger of their lives. The Lebanese 
fawned upon the British, swearing that they desired nothing 


so much as to become a colony of Empire — a most trans- 
parent lie, for if, in spite of their tastes, they did not like 
the French they would have been bored to the point of 
rebellion by the Anglo-Saxon. In the St Georges Hotel, 
with its sun-umbrellaed terrace overlooking the Mediter- 
ranean, its balconies and its cool restaurant, life remained 
obstinately fixed at 1939. Families of the wealthier French 
officers discussed packing. Christian Arabs bought and 
sold the futures of commodities which did not exist, and 
discussed the peculiarities of British officers who were too 
blind to see a bribe when delicately offered. Intelligence 
captains and majors conferred in corners, with half an eye 
upon the exotic mistresses of the French army and colonial 
service, restless, poor lovely darlings, with the problem of 
whether they should transfer their affections to Free 
French, who were as moneyless as monks and a lot more 
honest, or sail to unknown severities in France. 

High on Lebanon the brigadiers and colonels of the 
Armistice Control Commission exhausted their energy in 
preventing furious disputes on the merits of Petain and 
de Gaulle, and somehow found a little more to arrange the 
transference of administration and the order in which the 
troops should embark. Under the olive trees of the coastal 
hills was the ultimate arbiter, the Australian Corps, be- 
having very well under the formidable impact of Lebanese 
araq and intensely disappointed to find that the village 
maidens, often of startling beauty, were just as unsatis- 
factory as the Greeks. Meanwhile the liners, by courtesy of 
the British and German Admiralties, had started from 

Fortunately our commander was that patient military 
diplomat, General Wilson, now Field-Marshal Lord Wilson 
of Libya. His executive instrument was the Control Com- 
mission. Among the committees responsible to the Control 


Commission was the Embarkation Committee, upon which 
I represented the interests of security. 

The chairman was Colonel Robinson. Those perfect 
military manners which I had, trembling, appreciated in 
Athens now paid a dividend. He understood French well, 
and spoke it with that touch of hesitation and those delight- 
fully English constructions which always engage the affec- 
tions of Frenchmen. There were two majors from A and Q. 
branches of the Vichy staff, who quickly warmed to our 
friendly intentions. There was a Free French captain whose 
orders were obviously to protest at anything and every- 
thing. On our own side were representatives of Movement 
Control and of the Navy. The Vichy navy was represented 
by a lieutenant-commander who was frigid and correct 
until he was allowed — in private — to say what he thought 
of our attack on the French fleet at Mers el Kebir. Dis- 
covering that we had no strong opinions, for or against, he 
became almost human and would even drink with the 
hated British, assuring us in the most friendly manner that 
the Germans were even more detestable. 

The main duties of security were three : to ensure that 
no unauthorised person went on board the ships or 
disembarked from them, since every convoy provided a 
heaven-sent chance for the enemy to communicate with 
agents and sympathisers: to inspect personal kit for 
valuables and papers during the embarkation parade of 
the troops: to make a thorough customs examination of 
the main baggage. For these duties I had an Australian 
guard company, one and sometimes two Australian Field 
Security sections and Oswald Ormsby's magnificent section 
■ — most of whom had commissions within a year — which 
had arrived from England two months before. Most 
important of all, I had that dream of a security officer, a 
free hand — provided of course that I did not create or look 


like creating any international incident which the Control 
Commission could not settle. 

The first convoy arrived; and the quays of Beirut, empty 
except for the grey, reptilian urgency of the Navy, were 
suddenly gay with Europe. The very names of the liners, 
drawn from the fleets of the Cie. Transatlantique and 
Messageries Maritimes, were a reminder that peaceful 
harbours still existed, though for many years yet neither 
they nor we would be released to visit them. 

On every gangway were armed guards, with orders to 
allow no one on or off the ships who did not present my 
handwritten pass stating the name and rank of the person. 
The passes were squares of coloured cardboard, and what 
the colour of the day would be depended on my random 
choice among the sheets bought from a stationery shop. It 
looked an unbreakable system — always remembering that 
the weak point of any system of passes is the guard. 

The Australians were ideal. By birthright and taste they 
were no respecters of persons, and I reinforced the national 
humour by giving them specimen passes with ranks of 
brigadier upwards and with names and initials — if you 
looked at them closely — of pungent indecency. There was 
no bluffing them. They would not have allowed General 
Wilson himself on board without my pass. 

But the perfect system was of course immediately dis- 
organised by the unforeseen. Although the Vichy troops 
could not be induced to join the Free French, the crews of 
the liners were only too willing. When forced back up the 
gangways, they either jumped into the sea or swarmed 
down the mooring cables or carried refuse on shore and 
refused to return. 

There was little chance of evading the strong force of 
guards on well-lit quays, or the patrol boats in the harbour. 
At least I have always hoped so. But even if we arrested 
every deserter, the position was impossible. Without their 


proper complement of engineers and electricians the ships 
could not be sailed back to Marseilles — as the Free French 
were happily aware. And our sentries were becoming 
muddled and uncertain; for, if you qualify a sentry's 
orders by too many exceptions, he is inclined to treat his 
duty as a boring ceremonial and to be of no more worldly 
use than a bayonet outside Buckingham Palace. 

We appealed to the Control Commission. So, with fury 
and an unanswerable case, did the Free French. The 
judgement was deliciously British. On no account was any- 
one to be permitted to leave the ships. But, if they did, they 
were to be arrested and handed over to the Free French, 
who on their part were not to harangue, encourage or 
assist deserters but to be truly thankful for what God and 
the security officer might give them. 

In practice I translated this to mean : [a) that any Free 
French officer hanging about the ships should be imper- 
ceptibly drawn off to a harbour cafe to talk about de Gaulle ; 

(b) that deserters, if still on the gangway or preparing to 
jump, should be deterred by the utmost Australian ferocity; 

(c) that if a deserter actually had both feet on the quay, he 
was to be escorted to the guardroom. 

The orders worked. A sentry with a good breakfast in 
his belly would stretch them a bit; another who happened 
to be feeling anti-French, Free or not, would work to rule. 
And the guardroom was usually occupied by half a dozen 
outrageously cheerful deserters awaiting interrogation by 
their compatriots. 

Free French security appeared, to our minds, eccentric. 
If the man rallying to de Gaulle were a Catholic and 
interrogated by a Catholic, he was passed at once; he was 
also all right if he were an anti-clerical socialist, and hap- 
pened to be interrogated by an anti-clerical socialist. But 
if his luck were out, and he got an interrogator from the 
wrong party, he was held in custody for further and 


prolonged examination. My own interrogations — which I 
only undertook if a man looked of interest to other branches 
of Intelligence — usually ended in too much boisterous 
goodwill all round, and assurances that if there were any 
pro-Boche about his companions would unearth him sooner 
than I. In their case that was probably true. Groups of the 
homeless, however, are inclined to whisper to the security 
officer against the silent, the eccentric or the contemptuous, 
and to accept the plausible, talkative rogue. 

During the three or four days between the arrival of the 
ships and their departure the Field Security sections had 
to turn themselves into customs officers. The French were 
allowed to take home their used furniture and household 
goods. This meant that married officers and adminis- 
trators, who might have served for many years in Syria, 
had each of them enough beautifully- made and nailed 
crates to fill a removal van. The export of gold, of new 
goods, of documents and of food was forbidden. Our 
problem was to guess if any of these were hidden in the 
cavernous recesses of the crates. 

It was manifestly impossible ; so would it have been for 
real customs officers. But we were most of us travellers, and 
knew their procedure and their limitations. Like them, we 
wanted to send off our thirty-two thousand speaking well 
of the good nature of the British; like them, we had to find 
scapegoats so that army wife would whisper to army wife, 
before they packed, of the appalling indignities suffered 
by poor Mme Telle, and how Colonel Chose, who had 
bought so much beautiful embroidered bed linen had been 
forced to take it all back to the shop and sell it for what 
they would give. 

The customs officer has no real defence against the non- 
professional smuggler but the informant. Nor had we. 
Being Arabs, our informants were more often actuated by 
malice than a sense of duty ; they tended to accuse police 


and officials whom they did not like of smuggling out the 
Lebanese gold reserve hidden in upholstery. By God and 
His Glory, we had only to rip it all up and we should see! 
Ormsby's section, which was normally stationed in Beirut 
and gathered the information, grew brilliant at sifting the 
true from the false. Their chief source was the shopkeeper 
who knew very well that the passengers were not allowed 
to buy household goods for shipment to France and 
promptly reported any purchase. If we had no information 
whatever and still had to make an example of somebody, 
we naturally chose the difficult, the protesting or the 
evasive — who had to suffer the disappearance of the 
military into their crates, the exposure upon the dock of 
the open wardrobes and the dining-room suite, and the 
long wait for a carpenter with a hammer and nails. 

Dock concrete blazed in the sub-tropical sun, and the 
sparkle of the sea, promising blue cold of diamonds, 
deceptively added still more heat from its tepid upper 
layer. The Field Security N.C.Os, their shirts and shorts 
dark brown with sweat, worked in groups of three — always 
containing one fluent French-speaker — questioning, chalk- 
ing and occasionally opening. They never lost cheerfulness, 
and seemed to impress upon the French themselves that 
this was a sort of relentless, top-speed game. I can remember 
despair among the voyagers and irony and such half- 
humorous language as any soldier might in the circum- 
stances be expected to use, but little real resentment or 
bitterness. We in the customs sheds could afford to be 
merciful, knowing ourselves to be chiefly a deterrent. The 
true work of detection was being done outside the port by 
a sinister-looking sergeant of Ormsby's section who had 
already familiarised himself with a fair cross-section of the 
good and bad characters of the waterfront. 

The day of embarkation was more formal. Sam Brownes 
shone and webbing was blancoed, for we were to impose 


ourselves upon the French army in parade order. The 
battalions which had at last, in spite of all Free French 
obstruction, obtained their embarkation orders marched 
to the place d'armes on the east of the docks, and lined up 
in column of companies for inspection. Our men went 
slowly along the ranks, asking a question here and search- 
ing a kitbag there. I doubt if we ever confiscated anything. 
Fresh from the opulent crates of staff and administration 
we were in socialist mood when it came to discovering a 
cheese or a present of cheap jewellery in the poor haver- 
sacks of other ranks. 

The troops were allowed the personal arms proper to 
their ranks, and nothing more. On one occasion, with 
doubtful legality, I ordered tommy-guns to be surrendered. 
The French lieutenant-colonel protested that his establish- 
ment was one sub-machine-gun to a platoon, and that its 
bearer carried no rifle. When I pointed out that the Middle 
East was very short of tommy-guns and that we could use 
them on Germans whereas he could not, he very sportingly 
gave way. But I had to assure him that the British, not the 
Free French, would be armed with them. Which in fact 
did get them I do not know, but four were acquired by the 
sections as cherished possessions, covered by the completely 
worthless but unchallengeable authority of the Embarka- 
tion Committee. 

Nothing else, being moderate men, did we spirit away 
except much-wanted .45 ammunition and two cars. The 
ammo, was very necessary, for the Army, though it had 
provided us with revolvers, refused us more than twelve 
rounds per man. Thereafter the Syrian and Palestine 
sections could really learn to shoot and challenged each 
other to matches, losing section to order and pay for 
dinner in the back room of whatever grubby and efficient 
restaurant they patronised. 

The history of the two cars is a cautionary tale for young 


officers who should always be careful that their winnings 
are covered by paper, preferably issued by a unit about to 
depart for some other theatre of war. 

Our friends on the Vichy embarkation staff, who left 
last of all, were reluctant to surrender their staff cars to 
the Free French and told us in what street they had 
parked them. Ormsby, who was deep in plain-clothes 
work, needed a civilian car as well as his section truck. As 
for me, I had not even a truck, having been issued with a 
horrible little toy Italian car, captured in the desert. So we 
helped ourselves — he to a discreet black Citroen, I to a 
powerful Ford open tourer. 

For months we used our cars without a care, but mean- 
while the Free French, instead of attending to their internal 
politics, were ferreting out the fate of all the vehicles which 
should have been theirs and were not. A mild enquiry 
from Ninth Army, interested though obviously bored by 
nonsensical claims, was a warning that we should hear 
more of the matter. For me, instant action was easy. A 
friendly Australian R.A.S.C. company maintained my 
vehicles. I had no trouble in persuading its commanding 
officer to condemn my Italian horror and formally to issue 
the Ford in replacement. Thereafter I could look any 
military policeman in the eye. But Ormsby went for 
months in terror of court martial with the Citroen hidden 
under a cover in the section yard. Being a man of honour, 
he could not sell it; and he could not either lose it or drive 
it into the sea in case possession was ever incontrovertibly 
traced to him. In the end that car demanded the joint 
efforts of Robin Wordsworth, the adjutant and the most 
secret offices of the Middle East before it would consent to 
vanish into the anonymous mass of British Army vehicles. 

When the parade was over and the troops were filing on 
board, we reverted from soldiers to customs officers and 
lined up behind the long counter in the customs shed to 


deal with the hand baggage of the families. The export of 
personal jewellery was of course permitted, but ladies who 
festooned themselves like African queens with heavy gold 
bracelets were in trouble ; so were those who tried to assure 
a hasty and indiscriminate chalking of their baggage by 
rubbing themselves, spiritually or in fact, against the 
weary masculinity of the most sophisticated corps in the 
British Army. But the woman who was charming, cultured, 
helpless, assuming at once that she must put us at ease in 
our embarrassing duty, beat us as completely as she beats 
professionals. She floated deliciously on board, escorted by 
a chivalrous sergeant — if the officers were too busy — and 
there no doubt unpacked with an air of triumph and laid 
upon the bunk, which waited to enclose within its blushing 
teak such cool good manners, her insignificant contraband. 

Between convoys there were a few free days when the 
sections could put back some of the weight which they had 
sweated off on the docks, and I, apart from sittings of the 
Embarkation Committee, could idle in the luxury of the 
St Georges Hotel. Then the rush would begin again, start- 
ing with the despair of the Vichy staff because all their 
plans for the movement of troops from outlying stations to 
Beirut had been demolished by the demands of the Free 
French for last-minute changes. Every day I was in the 
offices of the majors of A and Q branch, and mutual com- 
miseration led to friendship — a melancholy and almost 
emotional friendship in which we wished to heaven that 
our easy collaboration was for a more martial purpose. 
Neither of them ever suspected that I was not a regular, 
and when at a final lunch I told them with what an 
amateur they had really dealt, their surprise was a most 
flattering compliment to my anthropoid capacity for 
imitating the actions of a different species. 

On the second convoy we sent off a battalion of the 
Foreign Legion — magnificent troops with a tendency to 


grow cinematic beards. When our respectful inspection of 
their kit was over, the commanding officer, formally and 
by his adjutant, requested me to report to him. He returned 
my salute with a glorious French flick of the wrist. We were 
instantly and obviously transported to the valiant and not 
wholly juvenile world of the Honours of War. He told me 
that I was the last British officer he would see, and this was 
the last chance he would have. He gave me his word that 
at his order the whole battalion would march off the place 
d'armes and join the British. But Free French they would 
not be. 

It went to my heart to reply that his offer could not be 
accepted. The question had arisen a dozen times before, 
both in the camps and at the final parade. For once our 
orders were precise. Either the troops sailed for France or 
they accepted the Gross of Lorraine. The hatred between 
the two parties of the French was pathological. Vichy 
could not forgive the Free French for having made their 
right and gallant sacrifice ; and the Free French themselves 
made reunion so much more difficult than it need have 
been. In those early Syrian days they were touchy, narrow 
and unsure of themselves. Among all the historical virtues 
of France the only one they fully represented was her 
superb courage. 

The Foreign Legion sloped arms and marched off by 
companies to the dock gates, where they stood easy while 
the column ahead of them moved forward yard by yard 
before breaking up into queues for the gangways. I was 
suddenly hurled into the position of the lonely and dutiful 
representative of power on the second page of a Kipling 
short story — which ended, since the craftsman is bound by 
laws less merciful than life, in knock-about farce. 

A crowd of some twenty or thirty Free French marines 
gathered at the dock gates yelling insults. The Legion 
began to growl and to return them. I advised the marines 


to disperse in what I hoped was the true French manner, 
genial, weary and authoritative. But they could not know 
that I had any authority; for them I was merely a stray 
British officer interfering with their fun. I tried an order. 
They slunk back ten yards and shouted a little louder than 
before. The men of the Legion instead of staring ahead 
along the line of the column turned to face the marines. 

Roaring up the docks on a motor-cycle, I grabbed 
Ormsby's truck and driver and half a dozen tough 
Australians from the guardroom. The marines stil) seemed 
to believe that I was an unaccountable spoil-sport. There 
was nothing left but to arrest the ringleaders and cart them 
off to their barracks under guard. I was just about to climb 
into the truck, congratulating myself that an incident grave, 
likely to involve the Control Commission in an endless 
exchange of signals with London, had been prevented, 
when one of the Australians loosed off his pistol and shot 
a Free French marine through both cheeks. As he had his 
mouth loudly open at the time he lost no teeth. 

Ormsby's driver was in civil life an undertaker's assistant. 
Though accustomed to death, he preferred it in more 
respectful surroundings than those provided by the Foreign 
Legion, Australians, Free French Marines and me. The 
bullet after traversing those surprised and indignant cheeks 
continued through the canvas of the truck and the wind- 
screen. The driver's peacetime training reinforced his 
panic. Having, as he supposed, a corpse in the back, he 
proposed to remove it. He trod on the accelerator, and I 
found myself shouting vainly after a cloud of dust. 

I could already hear the accusations. Not content with 
threatening gallant allies and shooting them down in 
droves, I had lost control of the situation and given no 
orders for the disposal of the prisoners and the care of the 
wounded. I despatched motor-cyclists to all likely spots. I 
rang up the hospitals. I alerted the military police. No 


good. The truck had vanished into the shimmering air of 
the Levant. It was, or seemed to me hours before even 
Field Security could bring me news of it. 

The undertaker's assistant had driven madly for open 
country. The Australians and the marines, assuming that 
he was carrying out orders unknown to them, sat peace- 
ably in the back. They had patched up the cheeks with 
field dressings and were now on excellent terms with each 

After a while the driver, meeting neither cemetery nor 
sudden death, shamefacedly stopped by the side of the 
road. The guard, joyously discovering the improbable 
situation, tackled it with Australian versatility. They 
turned the marines loose in town, took the casualty to 
hospital, sent the driver and truck back to his billet and 
then very reasonably enjoyed the opportunity for a slow 
and pleasant stroll back to the docks through the August 

Of course there was a Court of Enquiry to satisfy the 
Free French howl for British blood, preferably mine. 
Ormsby's driver — sportsman that he was — told the Court 
exactly what had happened and reduced them to un- 
judicial chuckles. The Australian guard commander swore 
that his man who fired the unnecessary shot had only 
recently left the hands of the Corps psychiatrist and had 
now been returned to him for further adjustment. I played 
Kipling for all he was worth, and explained in terse 
phrases, dragged unwillingly from the strong, silent man, 
what would have happened if the Foreign Legion had 
drawn those bayonets which the Honours of War permitted 
them to carry. The evidence, though quite unrehearsed, 
built up to an effective climax. I was not only cleared, but 
even congratulated. 

When the time came for the last convoy, orders and 
counter-orders rained upon Beirut from the mountains. 


The Vichy government were attempting to avoid their 
obligation to return the few British prisoners-of-war from 
Salonica; as a reprisal General Dentz and some of his 
officers were transferred to Jerusalem under open arrest. 
Another storm blew up when the Free French insisted on 
retaining in Syria certain key administrators of the colonial 
service, whether or not they rallied to de Gaulle. 

On the Embarkation Committee, however, and at the 
docks collaboration had grown into a model for NATO. 
The Vichy staff were friendly and regretful. The Free 
French, affected by the finality of the parting, had re- 
covered some of that national flexibility which hitherto 
they had been afraid to use. I myself ascribed the better 
understanding to Colonel Koenig (later the French com- 
mander in the magnificent action of Bir Hachim and 
G.O.C. in French-occupied Germany) on the worthless 
evidence — yet the only evidence which is ever attainable 
by a junior officer — that he commanded my respect and 
that he would listen. 

The Australians had been ordered to give the last of the 
French troops the military adieu proper to the Honours of 
War. Nobody had considered the ceremonial possibilities 
of Field Security, for which I cannot altogether blame 
them. But we wanted to say good-bye more than anyone 
else, and — having little of it in our daily life — we enjoyed 
good theatre. There was going to be a space to the left of 
the line. Since it was certain that no one would ever ques- 
tion our presence so long as we did the job properly, I 
decided that F.S. should fill it. 

Ormsby, fresh out from England, at least knew what a 
section should look like when formally paraded with its 
motor-cycles. From an ex-cavalry officer I obtained the 
details of an imposing manoeuvre which would enable the 
four sections to roar up the docks in third gear and peel off 
to the left into a double line on the narrow quay. 


It came off smartly, and we were still as guardsmen — 
though soaked with the sweat, dust and straw of the 
customs — when the great, gay ships began to move and 
the crash of the Australians presenting arms pointed a 
moment of utter silence before the band swept into the 
Marseillaise. I remember standing at the salute, facing the 
widening gap of sea, with tears paying no honours at all to 
the primitive immobility of my face. I am always inclined 
to swallow when I hear on any solemn occasion that most 
glorious of national anthems. But this was good-bye. All of 
me, the foolish and frustrated boy of 19 14-19 1 8, the pas- 
sionate lover of Europe, even the writer for whom the 
clarity of the French sentence was sacred, said good-bye 
for years which I then believed would double that first 
war to the beloved nation. 

In September 1941 I returned to Jerusalem and my 
deserted section, which had been carrying on, sound and 
stolid, under the sergeant-major. They were elated over the 
capture of a dangerous character whom they had cast, 
somewhat irregularly, into the military clink. He was a 
recruit in one of the newly formed Jewish companies who 
possessed in his kit private weapons which had not been 
issued to him by any quartermaster or even an Embarka- 
tion Committee. Visiting him in his unhappy cell, I saw 
that he was not at all the type of Jewish revolutionary who 
collected illegal arms in order to use them on the British as 
a scapegoat for Hitler. He really did want to kill Germans, 
and thought very reasonably that a fearsome dagger and 
an obsolete pistol would be of assistance; it was evident, in 
fact, that, like his interrogator, he was a harmless romanti- 
cist. I had to disillusion the section as tactfully as I could. 
Sections were always over-keen when ofhcerless, for the 
staff seldom knew how to handle them. Quite half the art 


of the Field Security Officer was to prevent his men from 
rushing off after rabbits without spoiling their enthusiasm 
for the hunt. 

It was now that Ninth Army was formed, under General 
Wilson, to take over the task of forming a defensive front in 
Syria in case the enemy attacked through Turkey. Head- 
quarters moved up to Brumana, a lovely village strung 
along the top of the coastal range 2,500 feet above Beirut, 
with High Lebanon behind. We went with them, as the 
Ninth Army section, and settled down to a dull round of 
pure military security, the chief object of which was to 
ensure headquarters against any such raid as our com- 
mandos had just carried out on Rommel. Lighter relief 
was the investigation of innumerable monks and their 
cellars, of one Roumanian cabaret girl all violets and fur 
coat, of the feudal factions of the Lebanese, mutually 
libellous, and a charming little Greco-Phoenician temple. 
I myself, putting forward the accepted myth that I ought 
not to live in a mess, luxuriated once more at the Hotel 
St Georges and travelled back and forth over the mountain 
roads by motor-cycle. 

I had possessed and quickly smashed one of these 
enthralling vehicles in my teens. In Jerusalem I learned, 
or half learned, under the anxious care of the sergeant- 
major, to ride one again. Indeed I rode it, rejoicing and 
absent-minded, all the way to Beirut when I went up to 
take over the security of the embarkation. Oswald Ormsby's 
section was then billeted in a house off a steep flight of 
steps which ran down from the square towards the port. 
By some astonishing misjudgment of clutch or accelera- 
tion I found myself careering down these steps, and stopped 
in front of the billet trying to look as if I had done it on 
purpose. That marvellous section was prejudiced in my 
favour ever after — not that they were taken in for a 


moment, but they appreciated a sense of style even in 

On these daily trips to and from Brumana I came to no 
great harm but once, when a combination of ice and the 
mayor's brandy caused me to run over my own thumb. I 
do not know how I did this, for the motor-bike and I 
parted company without any noticeable period of mutual 
entanglement. But my casual confidence makes me shud- 
der. For more than a year the roads, the lanes and even 
the goat tracks of Lebanon and Palestine were for me 
delight and recreation. My N.G.Os, who lived on their 
motor-cycles and would no more walk than a cattleman, 
occasionally ventured a restraining word. They were right. 
Many sections, including my own, had a man killed, and 
there was hardly a winter month when none was in hos- 
pital. The cause of the casualties was nearly always the 
same — a military or civilian truck turning left without 
mirror or hand signal just when the motor-cyclist was 
committed to overtake. 

Ninth Army was only an immensely important skeleton 
which could, at need, be instantly clothed with troops. It 
was based on Arab country, friendly but incalculable, yet 
it was not responsible for administration or internal 
security; those were the duties of the small, devoted but 
jealous band of the Free French who, if they had a near 
revolt on their hands, could be implicitly trusted to keep 
all news of it from the British and, when that was no longer 
possible, to believe illogically that we had instigated it. 
Not only was there danger of a pro-German movement, 
but agents could slip over from neutral Turkey across the 
five hundred miles of wild frontier to support any Fifth 

Added to these difficulties was the potentially explosive 
problem of feeding Syria and the Lebanon. The Arab 
capitalist, Christian or Moslem, is even more immoral than 


a novelist's exaggeration of the nineteenth-century Ameri- 
can. Profit in his mind is a conception completely isolated 
from its effects, and a speculator who has cornered wheat 
can piously give charity to starving children without any 
sense at all of his own guilt. It was the task of the British 
politely to conceal their opinions and, by a combination 
of wheat imports and fines, to force the cornered stocks on 
to the market. 

Either General Wilson or his able son, Patrick, who 
stretched long legs with deceptive casualness in the I (b) 
office, perceived that in Field Security the Army had a 
reliable organisation to hand which could watch and warn. 
Never had we been employed in quite such a role, nor had 
such appreciative masters. 

Field Security was then at its flowering. In early days, 
still feeling for its responsibilities, it concentrated on the 
elementary duties of security police ; in the later days of 
the occupation of enemy territory, temptation and the 
delusion of self-importance were sometimes too great for 
common flesh. But in the years between 1941 and 1944 the 
Field Security Wing in the Middle East preserved a stan- 
dard of common sense, discretion, tirelessness and gaiety 
which made me proud to belong to it. Partly this was 
Robin Wordsworth's doing; partly it was due to the extra- 
ordinary quality of the four sections which arrived from 
England in the spring of 194 1. 

There were sections at Beirut and Damascus; at 
Quneitra among the Druse; across the desert at Deir ez 
Zor on the Euphrates; in the Duck's Bill of Syria where the 
frontiers of Iraq, Turkey and Syria meet and the moun- 
tains of Persia are in sight on a clear day. Most vital of all 
was the Aleppo section whose men, speaking every lan- 
guage of the Levant, rode the trains of the Baghdad 
Railway which so closely followed the frontier that a 
passenger jumping from the left-hand window would land 


in Turkey, and from the right-hand in Syria. All the 
sections had outlying detachments in the chief villages of 
their district: sometimes a pair, sometimes a man alone, 
living on the local food and drink, sleeping in a white- 
washed village room on his blankets — if the section had 
never managed to win some camp beds — and spending his 
days listening to the village notables or smoothing relations 
between the civilian population and some unit which 
considered itself lonely. 

De Gaulle in his memoirs writes bitterly of the British 
agents all over the country, and I presume that, partly, he 
means us. But we were never anti-French, nor did we ever 
give advice to the administered against the interests of the 
administration. We were probably annoying in that it was 
difficult to keep anything secret from us. One has only to 
imagine the position reversed — a French Army in, say, the 
pre-war Sudan, doubtful whether the hard-worked rem- 
nants of a British colonial service could ensure its security, 
and determined that no sudden development should take 
it by surprise. We conceived ourselves as a modest, neces- 
sary oil, permeating everywhere it is true, but helping the 
cogs of Arab, French and British to interlock as smoothly 
as possible and thus to relieve the fighting troops of all 
distractions from their proper business. 

My own part in all this was wretchedly small, but I had 
had more than my fair share of opportunities already. We 
were moved down from Brumana to Tripoli to look after 
the security of Ninth Australian Division. There was very 
little of the more interesting civil security, for the French 
team in Tripoli was efficient. 

On one journey to Latakia I met God. He was sitting in 
the hotel restaurant wearing a bright brown lounge suit 
and drinking brandy like any other man. He was also 
extremely courteous in, as one would expect, the divine 
language of France, and did not press upon me the First 


Commandment. He was then giving us a great deal of 
trouble, for, while we impiously doubted his identity, his 
own clan did not. It was a country as rich in religions as in 
Roman days. There were Moslem heretics with fascinating 
rites of their own : the Alaouites with their priest-king and 
his sacred wives, the Yezidis who were polite to the devil 
in the Jebel Sinjar, the Druses whose covens, for most of 
the year, were respectable as Scottish elders. There were 
the happy and urbane Bahai, and a few Zoroastrians. And 
there were four different kinds of native Christians, exclud- 
ing the sects produced by competitive missionaries ranging 
in time from St James to the Methodists. God was on a 
very good wicket from the start. 

Even he had to put up with a lone Field Security 
sergeant at his elbow, and his tendency to Old Testament 
ferocity eventually led to his arrest. All his doings were 
devoutly chronicled in a resume of the Field Security 
weekly reports compiled and circulated by Patrick Wilson 
for the delectation of Intelligence in general. There was no 
principle in it readily explicable to a magazine editor. 
Generally speaking, to merit publication an action or event 
had to be utterly incredible to a peacetime public and 
instantly and obviously true to us. 

Life in Tripoli was made for me pleasantly exotic by the 
friendship of Fouad Douaihy, a local Christian landowner 
and head of a small Lebanese clan which gave him the 
right to the title of Sheikh. He claimed descent from 
Crusaders, and looked, I imagine, much as his stocky, 
florid, moustachioed ancestors when, after the fall of 
Tripoli, they assumed the turban — Sheikh Fouad, like 
other well-to-do Lebanese Christians, always wore an 
expensive red tarboosh — and made their peace with the 
surrounding Moslems. 

His winter residence was Zghorta where he carried on 
the life of the Great Hall, surrounded by relatives and 


retainers. The Hall was in fact no bigger than a good 
suburban living-room, but his manner extended it through 
history. When he spoke Arabic you could see that he was 
the traditional protector of his clan, by steel or bribery, 
against the Turkish pashas. When he spoke French — with 
a bookish correctitude, for he had been educated in 
France — his spiritual home was obviously the Second 

Such a personage was much to my taste, but what 
attracted him to me I do not know. It may have been that 
I introduced him to the Indian Mule Company whose lines 
were on his domain; thereafter he delighted to sit in their 
officers' mess tent and talk horses; or possibly it was my 
delight in Lebanese wines and cooking, of which he was 
rightly proud. He even compelled me to acquire a liking 
for araq, which in Lebanon was made from grapes and 
much resembled Italian grappa with an added flavour of 

His men, his table and his advice were mine to command 
at any moment. I hoped for further feudal privileges ; but, 
though a lusty bachelor of sixty, he appeared to enjoy none 
himself. Whatever his tastes were, they were never men- 
tioned or even hinted at. Some of his female relatives were 
very pretty indeed; and after one admirable dinner, at 
which I had paid marked attention to a young Douaihy 
who was deliciously pretending to be flirtatious and French, 
I was surprised by the sudden flowering of an incident 
straight out of the Arabian Nights. 

One of Fouad's dusty clansmen, whom I knew only by 
sight, appeared in my office with a secret to impart. When 
the doors were shut and I had sworn by God that I would 
never breathe a word to the Sheikh of what he was about 
to tell me, he took from his sash and offered me a scented 
note in ill-spelt French — but it was no moment for ortho- 
graphy — which whispered shyly that my charms at the 


dinner had overcome all virginal resistance and that 
supper would be laid for me, if I cared to partake of it, at 
a certain address at eleven at night. Yes, said the Arab 
boldly, it was indeed she whom I had met and whom my 
heart desired. 

I did not think that my attack, limited as it was by the 
nineteenth-century conventions of that dinner party, could 
have been quite so overwhelming, and the note seemed a 
little out of character. So when the evening came, though 
I hoped for the best, I slipped a pistol into my pocket and 
told the sergeant-major where I would be. 

At some distance from the rendezvous I dismissed the 
civilian taxi which I had discreetly hired, and moved 
cautiously through the back lanes of the sleeping village. I 
opened the door I had been told to open and shut it 
quietly behind me. There indeed was the supper laid out, 
but my hostess was not the slender, doe-eyed girl with 
water-melon hips. It was Fouad's cousin — a melancholy, 
excitable and rather dirty maiden lady in her middle 

I look back with shame upon the ensuing half hour. All 
chivalry, all the European traditions of the gentleman, 
even the Christian behest of duty to one's neighbour com- 
manded a single course of action. Taste and the decadent 
fastidiousness of the twentieth century commanded quite 
another. How I escaped from that house with manners I 
cannot remember. The answer is probably that I escaped 
without any. I returned in the dead of night to Tripoli, 
sweating with panic as if I had been delivered from that 
unlikely ambush which I half suspected. 

Our military duties would have been intolerably dull 
if we had not been the only British unit in the division. 
That meant a fresh and appreciative audience for our 
lectures, and unfamiliar difficulties to settle in the relations 
between troops and civilians. The staff was kind, though 


touchy at the merest hint of human imperfection, and the 
troops looked upon us as a mysterious body of men of 
immense sophistication, fully able to deal with any beauti- 
ful spy according to her deserts and attractions. 

With the military police, all of them over six feet and 
the most formidable bunch of sympathetic thugs I have 
ever met, co-operation was wonderful. On one occasion I 
was called up by the D.A.P.M., himself capable of discip- 
lining with one hand, should it be necessary, any three of 
his policemen, in a state of abject terror and embarrass- 
ment. They had picked up a sort of human being in a raid 
on the local brothel — an appalling joint run by the French 
for their native troops — and would I come round at once 
and tell them what it was? 

I entered the guardroom. Half a dozen vast Australians 
were standing round a curious object, as nervous as 
women observing a giant cockroach. It was small, wizened, 
blankly self-possessed and attired in shirt and trousers and 
a filthy velvet jacket. They had thought it might be a 
deserter, but now, said the D.A.P.M., his voice rising to a 
scream, they were not sure whether it was male or female. 

My courage thus challenged, I could only touch and find 
out. It was female. Gentle interrogation proved that it 
lived in the dark back closet where it was found. This 
seemed to be entirely a question for the French liaison 
officer, but I persisted. Was she an employee of the place? 
No, she was a friend of Madame. Then was she at liberty 
to come and go? Certainly, but she was quite happy and 
did not. She was — didn't I understand? — the friend of 
Madame. At last I saw the light, and tried to explain to 
the Australians. They were extremely shocked. 

Soon afterwards all the Australians left for the Pacific 
fronts, and the Middle East was never quite so full- 
flavoured again. It occurred to me years later — for the 
simpler the fact, the longer I am liable to take to see it — 


that I might have been condemned to heavy military 
security because I had already proved that I could get on 
with them. I was always surprised by the mutual liking, 
since my acceptance of the world as it is makes me im- 
patient with the enthusiasms of Anglo-Saxons across an 
ocean, and I can relax more completely in the company of 
European man or woman. But in war that is unimportant. 
When men are trying to do their best with a simple 
environment, the 'best' is so obvious that there is no room 
for any difference of opinion as to what the word means. 

Here, too, that Spanish background may have counted. 
I remember once being hailed, late at night and in a 
deserted street of Tripoli, by two large and aggressive 
Australians who insisted that I should drink from the 
bottle of gin which they were waving. Any sensible 
pommy officer would have vanished round the nearest 
corner; others, more military than tolerant, might have 
endeavoured to arrest the pair. But all they wished was to 
enforce out of season a muddled conception of democracy, 
and they were enchanted when I pretended to take a 
cordial pull at their bottle and after some conversation set 
them on their way to camp. They swore that none of their 
own officers would have done any such thing. I doubt that 
— but courtesy is always easier for the outsider, especially 
if it be after dinner. 

Soon after Christmas I took a week's leave and went 
down to Jerusalem. I found there a frustrated section — for 
even on leave we always spent hours with each other 
talking shop. The officer had been my very best N.C.O. in 
Greece, and I had left him alone to watch the crossings of 
the Corinth Canal bridge, a position demanding responsi- 
bility and some courage — not, of course, what a platoon 
sergeant in the infantry would call courage, but the 
quality is basically the same. Merely because he was half 
a Jew and had a Jewish name, the Palestine Police dis- 


trusted him. The blazing conceit of that brave but 
incompetent force still infuriates me. As if we did not know 
a thousand times better than they whom we could trust! 

When he told me that he was going to ask for a transfer 
I decided to apply for the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv section 
myself; partly from feeling out of the world in Tripoli and 
unable to use my European experience and languages, 
partly because I had an immense pride in the curious 
comradeship which we were achieving all the way from 
Cairo to the Upper Euphrates. Palestine was the weak 
spot of our travellers' club. Field Security was not res- 
pected, and the standard of liaison and hospitality was 

Early in 1942 I moved to Jerusalem and began the 
most consistently and consciously happy year of my life. 
The Intelligence staff at Palestine Headquarters had all 
changed. My chief was Henry Hunloke, before the war a 
Member of Parliament — I never heard him speak but he 
must have been very able in the diplomacies of the 
smoking-room — and the G III was J. V. Prendergast, who 
oddly combined an Irish wildness of temperament with an 
English shyness. It took us only a month of motionless 
tom-cat watching of each other to decide that our ideas of 
work, play and the Palestine problem were very much the 

The duties of Field Security in a country under British 
civil administration should, on the face of it, have been 
limited and dull. There could be no interference with 
internal security, which was the job of the Palestine Police, 
nor with politics. The local sport of buying and stealing 
British arms was not so much our affair as that of the 
Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police. Even 
the detection of persons immigrating from Central Europe 


and the Balkans and pretending to be Jews could be under- 
taken much more efficiently by the Intelligence Service of 
the Jewish Agency than by the British. 

In fact, when I look back on Palestine it seems to me 
that the most important part of the work was to appreciate 
what Field Security should not do without orders — a very 
different position from Syria. But our conception of our- 
selves as the essential oil in the machinery was still valid, 
and soon led to all the orders we could handle. It was up 
to a keen and lively section to sell itself, for the service 
which it could offer to customers was not always clear till 
it was demonstrated. 

In Jerusalem were several headquarters of the most 
secret branches of Intelligence, employing aliens whose 
intentions, movements and indiscretions were occasionally 
brought to our notice. There was the printing of army 
maps. There were camps of allies all the way down the 
coast to Gaza and Rafah and prisoner-of-war camps and 
the great permanent camp at Sarafand — most musical of 
names for a spot most desolate in its boredom — where the 
Jewish companies under training were torn between the 
desire to go into action against Germans, as eventually 
they did, and the political necessity for staying at home to 
fight Arabs or British or both should the war end unexpec- 
tedly. Besides these fairly straightforward security prob- 
lems, there was the eternal Palestine question, upon minor 
aspects of which we were sometimes engaged and allowed 
an opinion so long as it was expressed with sufficient 

An official opinion, I mean. So far as personal opinions 
were concerned, all the Army Intelligence officers talked 
Palestine day and night. It was difficult to make them 
understand the full force of Zionism since, though they 
knew the promise and the difficulties of translating it into 
reality, they could not know the conditions which the 


promise was intended to relieve. They always had in mind 
the comparatively prosperous British Jews who were un- 
likely to want to die for anything but Britain, and so they 
failed to understand the meaning of Palestine to the Polish 
or Roumanian villager living precariously on the edge of 
pogrom or starvation. They set no limits at all to his 
capacity for tortuous intrigue — indeed there were few to 
set — but they did not give him credit for being potentially 
the finest fighting man on earth because it was so much 
easier for him than for the rest of us, who have begun to 
complicate our nationalism with wider loyalties, to know 
beyond any doubt the value of his death. 

Among the police and the administration there was a 
fixed idea that the Arab was a better soldier than the Jew. 
You could not discuss it with them at all. And that was 
natural enough, since Arab prowess in the rebellion, such 
as it was, had been evident to the plain man, and Jewish 
skill-at-arms only to the imaginative. They saw the coming 
struggle as Arab raider versus expatriated pawnbroker, 
whereas a truer parallel was European revolutionary 
versus an exclamatory native who would far rather gesti- 
culate than die. But they were of course right in considering 
that any Jewish Palestine would be a soldier's nightmare. It 
can, in theory, be occupied by an invader and held, whereas 
the fertile crescent surrounding it cannot be occupied at all. 
In war Israel is condemned to defence and savage reprisal 

My new section was a beauty — outrageously merry and 
loyal. The only weakness — and it was far too frequent in 
Field Security — was the sergeant-major. He was an ex- 
guardsman, and so had the normal qualities of a good 
charwoman; he could be trusted to see that our billet in 
Tel Aviv was clean. What else he did I never enquired too 
closely. Administration flowed smoothly and — if we needed 
comforts to which we were not entitled — expertly from the 


typewriter and long experience of a former corporal of the 
Black Watch. 

All that year I was caressed by luck. On the evening of 
my arrival in Jerusalem I called on Haim Wardi to see if 
my charming whitewashed hovel at the bottom of his 
garden were free. It was not, but he could do still better. 
He told me that he was just leaving to join up as a private 
in the Jewish battalion, and presented his house to me on a 
peppercorn rent of three conditions : that I would put him 
up when he came home on week-end leave, that I would 
look after his dog and that I would do my best to preserve 
the services of his cook. 

The first delighted me, for he had a mind which was 
incalculable as a peasant's white wine. According to his 
mood, it could be dry or bitter or naturally sparkling, but 
it was never watery. The dog, I fear, was treated somewhat 
perfunctorily, for I have no pleasure in dogs. Too slavish a 
devotion embarrasses me, especially when accompanied 
by an unpleasant smell. To keep the cook, a Polish Jewess 
of such rigid orthodoxy that she might well consider her- 
self defiled by a Gentile, I did my best; and she responded 
at once, like any other woman, to greed and admiration. 
Traditional Jewish cooking is disastrous when dealing with 
flesh and fowl whole or normally sliced ; but given a sharp 
knife, a mincing machine and unlimited herbs and onions 
it is worth serious attention. 

It was a discreet house for visitors who did not wish to 
come too openly to my office, and a joyous house for 
parties. Today the frontier between Jew and Arab must 
run nearly through the garden. I conjure the ghosts of love 
and good-fellowship that they may rise and tempt too 
serious a sentry to lay down his rifle and share beneath the 
trees an illegal bottle with his enemy. 

At the end of May defeat in the desert brought up to 
Palestine some of the more movable encumbrances of war, 



such as rich Egyptians, army wives, internees, the naval 
depots and intelligence organisations so secret that they 
were unlikely to have any immediate effect on the war. 
This exodus involved me in an adventure which began as 
a fairy-tale and ended in futility, thus closely resembling a 
nineteenth-century atheist's vision of human life except 
that it was highly enjoyable while it lasted. 

At the outbreak of war it had only been possible to 
intern or expel the most dangerous of the many thousands 
of Italians in Egy jt. When Rommel's advance threatened 
Alexandria, there was a further weeding out of Italians. A 
party of them was sent up from Egypt to Palestine, housed 
in a monastery near Bethlehem and given a limited liberty 
of movement. 

Sansom, my opposite number in Cairo — one of the very 
few of us who really did justify his existence by occasion- 
ally arresting an undoubted spy — wrote to me privately 
that among these Italians was a young lawyer of some 
promise whom he knew for certain to be anti-fascist, 
though his contacts had been suspicious. He thought I 
might find him very useful. 

I had better call the man X — since his promise as a 
lawyer has been largely fulfilled. He spoke good Arabic 
and was all in favour of relieving boredom by a little 
excitement; so I instructed him to mix with the local 
Arabs and to be more fascist than the fascists. He came in 
with various small and useful reports, and then produced 
a story that the German Consul in Jerusalem had, before 
the war, established a considerable cache of arms in one of 
the many caves between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea, 
ready for a rising if the Germans reached the frontiers of 

We were all, including X, pretty doubtful about the 
truth of the tale, but it was possible. So he kept his highly 
intelligent nose on the trail. At last, after infinite coffees 


and deserts of pointless talk, he was promised by a local 
notable that he should see the cave. He was taken to 
several, all empty — except for the unimaginable presence 
of the Dead Sea Scrolls — by excitably suspicious Arabs at 
some real risk to his life. 

Henry Hunloke, though as sceptical as I, gave me per- 
mission to go ahead, so I asked for an N.C.O. speaking 
Arabic and Italian to help X. That such a request to 
Headquarters was quite straightforward and could be 
easily fulfilled is a comment on our usefulness in the Middle 
East. The Commandant sent me a young Englishman of 
unlimited courage and astonishing and wholly Italian 
good looks. 

He and X together made further progress. The Arab 
notable was willing to discuss plans for a rising with any 
German agent whose authority was beyond doubt, but 
nobody else. I decided to be the local head of the German 
Secret Service myself. 

The loan of a flat for the meeting was not difficult to 
arrange. Jerusalem had several mysterious inhabitants 
whose cover was unbreakable and whose connection with 
the British Government was not easily to be traced by the 
curious — even by an Arab officer of the Palestine Police if, 
as we had some reason to believe, one of them was near 
the heart of the business. The gentleman who arranged to 
be out while we used his premises could very well have 
been a German agent. 

I staged a show straight out of any boy's story. It would 
not have taken in an intelligent European — unless he had 
been reading too many of them — but it was calculated to 
appeal to the Arab passion for dramatic unreality : a failing 
which does not lead him into as much trouble as might be 
expected, since it is balanced by a tiptoe, deer-like quality 
of caution. 

When X led the notable and his three or four retainers 


into the room, they were faced by a desk behind which sat 
a figure in a white suit with a Nazi arm-band, and a black 
bag over his head pierced by Ku Klux Klan eye-holes. 
Behind him, standing to attention were three large, silent 
toughs, also black-bagged — among them, Prendergast, 
whose appearance of Teutonic stiffness and brutality 
behind his tommy-gun was wholly terrifying. I rose with 
courtesy — for the principal German agent would surely 
have some knowledge of local customs, though unfor- 
tunately he spoke no Arabic — and my address of welcome 
was beautifully interpreted by X. Except for occasional 
harsh commands, we used French, on the grounds that X 
did not understand German nor I Italian. 

Our guest was a man of distinction in his middle forties, 
exquisitely robed and bearded. In spite of the extra- 
ordinary spectacle, his face showed only the slightest flicker 
of surprise, instantly extinguished; he might have been 
entering the tent or house of some distant cousin whom he 
had never had the good fortune to meet before. It is that 
fineness of breeding which has always enchanted the not so 
rare Englishmen who have loved, pampered and courted 
the Arabs for the last hundred years. It is impossible not to 
respect and admire an aristocrat even if you know — or 
perhaps because you know — that under the perfection of 
good manners is a childish heart seething with fear and 
distrust, and balancing the advantage of treachery against 
the convention which forbids it. 

This minor and slippery Saladin infected me with a 
chivalry which I am sure my Fuehrer would have cen- 
sured. When the hour came for the evening prayer, I with- 
drew the masked chorus, leaving notable and retainers 
alone with Allah and all our arms. The gesture did indeed 
impress him, and upon our return relations over the coffee 
were most cordial. Except for the taking of a solemn oath 
of brotherhood, the meeting led nowhere. That was to be 


expected. He sent his regards to the Fuehrer, having in his 
mind, I imagine, a mere picture of envied power to shed 
blood noisily, and never perceiving that his daily solitudes 
with God made nonsense of that intolerable plebeian. 

A second meeting was marked by even greater social 
ease — especially on our part, for we had at first omitted to 
ventilate the black bags, and conversation on a hot Pales- 
tine night, let alone enthusiastic heiling of Hitler, left us 
gasping and sweating in our home-made Turkish baths. 
Confidence seemed to be growing. I bought from the 
notable an Italian automatic. X recommended the pur- 
chase on the grounds that it was a gesture of trust, 
admitting us, as it were, to the arms-dealing club. 

But trust was still far from absolute. When we came out 
of the block of flats after giving our Arab guests an hour to 
get away, their hired car charged round a corner at us 
trying to illuminate our faces with the headlights. It was a 
clumsy attempt and it failed; but then there was a half- 
hearted attempt to follow us. We separated and took to 
lanes and backyards, making such speed as was possible 
with tommy-guns down our trouser legs, and reunited 
over cool drinks in my garden. 

X and the Arabic-speaking corporal who had been lent 
to me were, however, very nearly in trouble. They were 
taken out into a barrenness of hills to see more caves, and, 
once there, were suddenly told that it was known that the 
principal German agent was a British officer. X, with 
great presence of mind, replied contemptuously that of 
course he was. What else could he be and still operate 
successfully and unsuspected? This answer surprised and 
delighted the notable — who had only been trying a third- 
degree guess — and both men reported that it was quite 
safe to continue the meetings. 

We no longer believed in the cache of arms, and we had 
established with reasonable certainty that our man was not 


in touch with any real German agent or network. The 
notable was ready to commit himself to support of the 
enemy provided Rommel was near enough to protect him 
from the consequences; but that was nothing new. Plenty 
of influential Palestine Arabs were willing to be polite to 
the Germans — not that they at all preferred them to the 
British, but they approved their methods of dealing with 
Jews. The question thus arose what use further meetings 
could be. We might indeed set up as agents provocateurs, but 
we had quite enough potential trouble in Palestine without 
provoking more. For us the operation had no longer any 
clear objective. For Cairo it might have some. So Henry 
Hunloke reported what we had done and asked for orders. 
Cairo replied in effect that if Household and Prendergast 
had now enjoyed themselves sufficiently to return to their 
normal routine, nothing would be lost by their doing so. 

I agreed with the verdict thankfully. I felt that I could 
continue the meetings for some time without embarrassing 
I (b) or the Palestine Administration, but I could not 
bear the thought of arresting a man with whom I had 
taken a very solemnly sworn oath of brotherhood. Honour 
is a luxury which both spy and security officer must some- 
times be prepared to forego ; nevertheless to break an oath 
is a crime against humanity. I see and saw the difference 
between that and fair deception as resembling the differ- 
ence between the murder of a civilian and killing an 
enemy in uniform. 

There were two sequels to this pointless adventure. 
Prendergast, thirteen years later in Kenya, attended a 
meeting of the Mau Mau and won a George Cross for it. I 
have never heard the story from him, but the memory of 
our parlour theatre, completely without danger, may have, 
as it were, inoculated him against stage nerves when he 
engaged in the real professional play with its appalling 
risk of instant and disgusting death. 


The other sequel is a record of sheer naughtiness. I gave 
the Italian automatic which I had bought to an officer 
leaving for Persia at short notice, who had no pistol of his 
own. GHQwere then in a state of justifiable excitement 
over the number of captured weapons which were reaching 
an eager market. All road and frontier controls were 
ordered to put the possessor on a charge if he could not 
prove that he had come innocently by his weapon. 

I was sitting in my office one evening with a conscience 
exceptionally clear when a solemn sergeant of the Special 
Investigation Branch — the detective branch of the military 
police — requested a private interview with me. That 
seemed unusual — for liaison was at officer level — but I saw 
the light when, after some professional clearing of the 
throat, he asked me if I would care to make a statement 
regarding a pistol which Captain So-and-So said that I 
had given him. The word given was pronounced in the 
sedate inverted commas of the police, and 1 could sense a 
well-controlled enthusiasm that at last the S.I.B. had been 
able to pin a crime on Field Security. 

Our relations with them were always most friendly but 
marked by disapproving silences, somewhat resembling 
those between the amateur sleuth and the inspector in a 
detective story. For example, it was the duty of the S.I.B. 
to trace and apprehend a deserter. It might be our duty to 
watch the deserter's contacts and even to meet him for an 
occasional drink without hinting to him or anyone else that 
we knew exactly what he was. The result was that they 
considered us irresponsible, while we, more in touch with 
politics, would sometimes hide our eyes in horror at the 
constable's heavy foot loudly descending upon bridges too 
flimsy for an angel's toe. 

I pretended embarrassment. I allowed it to be dragged 
from me that I had indeed bought the pistol for money. I 
would not say where. I even signed with trembling hand a 


statement, and murmured that I hoped Palestine Head- 
quarters would be able to clear me. So the sergeant's 
captain had a final polish put upon his buttons and called 
on Henry Hunloke. He, warned by me that the enquiry 
was on the way, but quite ignorant of my un-Christian 
behaviour, of course said with his usual humorous and 
impenetrable courtesy that my arms-dealing had the 
approval of high authority. Ever after I could see upon 
the dead faces — when sober — of the S.I.B. a guarded 
determination not even to hint that the Intelligence staff 
were selling pistols and spending the proceeds upon 
alcohol and women. 

Early in 1943 I followed the pistol to Paiforce, a new 
Command, entirely separate from Middle East Command, 
which had been formed under General Wilson to hold 
Persia and Iraq against a very possible German offensive 
through the Caucasus, and to keep the road and railway 
open for the American supplies which were pouring into 
Russia through the Persian Gulf ports. 

I was offered the job of Commandant of Field Security 
and of course accepted with pride and delight. But between 
my acceptance and departure Paiforce died — though still 
preserving an appearance of life from busy movements of 
the beetles on its corpse. The German threat was obviously 
over for ever when their armies fell back from Stalingrad 
and the Volga. Wilson left to take over Middle East 

I arrived in Baghdad in March. The staff, occupying a 
large housing estate, was to be seen at its very worst. This 
desert suburbia, coloured yellow and mud upon a plain of 
mud, was itself enough to rot any generosity of spirit 
among those who worked in it. The one object of every 
administrative soldier — he was often unconscious of it and 


saw it as duty — was to increase the work of his department 
so that it should not be abolished. And that would be true 
of the army of any nation, for as soon as a soldier gets into 
a chair which is not operational he takes on all the vices 
of a civil servant. 

Having created Paiforce, the War Office could not be 
expected to put a brutal end to it within six months ; and 
the Command did have an excuse for existence since the 
Persian Gulf was too far away to be easily administered by 
Middle East. Just as in the days of the Pharaohs there was 
only one road from the Nile to Mesopotamia, though ours 
cut straight across the desert and theirs circled round it 
through Syria. 

The fault seemed to He — but here I am out of my depth 
— in too rigid a system of administration. If war requires 
a Command responsible, without any intermediary, only 
to Whitehall, then it must be a General Headquarters; and 
if it is a GHQ, then it must have all the administrative 
offices of a GHQ in spite of the fact that there is a bare 
half day's work for any of them. Heaven knows what 
Paiforce cost the taxpayer, simply because established cus- 
tom prevented Treasury and War Office from limiting a 
GHQ to the size, say, of an Army staff. 

The result was that captains became colonels, and 
majors, brigadiers, in spite of themselves. Promptly they 
acquired a vested interest in creating enough paper to give 
their jobs a semblance of indispensability. Even those 
who were only too willing to lose exalted rank on condition 
that they might leave Paiforce for a more active front found 
it difficult to do so without pulling strings in Cairo or 
London. There was indeed a small office at GHQ, respon- 
sible for reducing staff where possible, but to go in there 
and submit a paper actually recommending reduction was 
considered as unconventional as preaching pacifism. 

Our living conditions were revolting. Admittedly my 


own had been sybaritic, but I would not have minded a 
clean change to canvas and open air. As it was, we were 
crammed into requisitioned hotels along the Tigris, from 
which we poured every morning at eight on to the ferries 
across to our housing estate. The kitchens and sanitary 
arrangements of these detestable hotels were quite inade- 
quate to deal with us, and drink on either side of the river 
was pretty well limited to the Baghdad water supply. For 
my evening relaxation I was reduced to a couple of shots 
of palm toddy in the privacy, when there was any, of my 
literally stinking bedroom. There were two beds in it, and 
the other was reserved for visiting officers. I never knew to 
what pillowed head I should be compelled to be polite, 
nor whether it would prefer to snore, to converse or to 

Not everyone loathed Baghdad as much as I. Dowxi the 
Tigris was a noble thick-walled house, built by some rich 
merchant in days when the trader was the only tourist, 
where mysterious Intelligence officers lived with silver and 
mahogany. What they did I was never quite sure and, as 
Commandant, Field Security, I had to set an example by 
refraining from indiscreet questions. But among them was 
Alec Waugh, as always on enviably good terms with his 
surroundings. Occasional meals together reminded me 
that the hideousness of that squalid city should be easily 
endurable to the accustomed traveller. 

At the beginning of the hot weather, messes were at last 
organised. The Intelligence staff was allotted a house with 
a flowered courtyard and, on two sides of it, a line of white- 
washed cells in which one could set up a camp bed and an 
orange box and enjoy privacy. It was so genial a mess that 
I wondered if my preference for hotels — excluding Baghdad 
— had not been entirely wrong. Our mess secretary was a 
bon vivant who had had some experience of catering for a 
London club. His duties at GHQwere of the slightest, and 


he spent his time supervising the issue of rations and the 
Iraqi cooks. What that man did — I am ashamed that I 
have forgotten his name — with ration beef, bully, potatoes 
and onions was incredible. Even on the rare occasions 
when one could not enjoy the meal, one could be enter- 
tained by the ingenuity of the attempt. Liquid supplies 
became plentiful, for every officer on tour, especially if he 
were bound for Teheran, was expected to bring back 
whatever he could buy and carry. I myself had the luck to 
find a NAAFI about to close down in Kirkuk, and returned 
to Baghdad with dozens of gin and Palestine wine in the 
back of the car. 

Once away from Baghdad and on tour among the 
sections depression was impossible. I never cared for central 
Iraq, since there is no colour in it but the weary sky, no 
accident of ground but irrigation ditches and no timber 
except for the palms along the Tigris. How the human 
spirit could have flowered in that world of fertile mud is 
difficult for the European to understand. Jerusalem and 
Hamadan, Caesarea and Damascus and Aleppo — in all 
those I could have lived and been content. But in Ur and 
Babylon and the valley of the Nile no raising of eyes to the 
glory of ziggurat or pyramid could have prevented me 
from packing upon my asses such wives as they could 
accommodate and departing like Abraham to find the God 
of the hills. Even Nineveh, where rolling grasslands at 
least feel their way towards the mountains of Kurdistan, 
would have been home enough. Yet Nineveh contributed 
to civilisation little but a savage military aristocracy. Per- 
haps the long, tranquil periods of history can only be 
attained under the flat sedative of mud. 

North and east of Nineveh and Mosul, Iraq becomes a 
land of poplar and willow and rushing water, with a distant 
glint of snow. At Mosul was a splendid section, almost 
entirely concerned with civil security. Among their respon- 


sibilities were the wild Turkish frontier, the Persian fron- 
tier where enemy agents were active, the Baghdad Railway 
and the town of Mosul, always smouldering with the 
ancient enmity between Kurd and Arab. I found them 
isolated, grossly overworked, learning the local languages 
and apparently enjoying every changing month. I could 
do no more than see they had all the comforts which could 
be given, and a very fair share of the small secret fund. 

A long tour took me to Basra and Abadan, and twice 
across Persia. The vital road to Russia was intolerably 
dangerous. It was only wide enough for two vehicles care- 
fully to pass, and up and down the hills hurtled the lorries 
of the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation, driven 
by reckless Persians until brakes and springs fell apart. 
Added to these terrorists were the American trucks, nearly 
all with coloured drivers. It seemed to be the American 
plan to keep the transport in first-class condition but to 
work the drivers into the ground. There were many cases 
of these tireless and gallant negroes falling asleep at the 
wheel. At least they were generally believed to have fallen 
asleep. There was seldom anyone left to confirm the 

My driver and I decided to take a more ancient road 
across the mountains and live to fight another day. There, 
instead of the frantic lifting of supplies to Russia, we caught 
up the summer migration of the Lurs. It was a scene from 
the long past of humanity, and by now, except in the heart 
of Central Asia, it may have vanished from the world. 

I could no more number the tribe than Moses. There 
may have been ten thousand; there may have been fifty 
thousand. They were dark, eager-looking men and women, 
all with the same peculiar nose — a long, delicate instru- 
ment with a curiously arched flair to the nostrils and a 
slight hook which had neither the beak-like quality of the 
Semitic nor the solidity of the Roman or the Basque. They 


were all dressed in black, with little colour. They moved 
with their herds of sheep, goats and cattle, and all their 
possessions on the backs of pack animals : ponies, donkeys 
or camels. It took us a whole day in low gear to get 
through them, and they were remarkably good-tempered 
over the intrusion — especially since we had no Persian for 
politenesses or exhortation and were limited to the com- 
mon exclamations of soldier's Arabic, of which they seemed 
to understand about as much as we did. 

At Kasvin we entered the Russian zone, and at last I 
was face to face with the almost mythical people whose 
refugees I had comforted as a youth, around whose fron- 
tiers, like a gipsy skirting a park wall, I had roamed as a 
commercial traveller, whose entry into the war as allies 
had brought us all the certainty that some time, in years 
to come, the enemy would be exhausted. To us in the 
garrison of the Middle East the entry of America was not 
so immediately encouraging. As our parochial minds saw 
it, the Indian Ocean was likely to be lost to Japan and the 
Middle East to become the middle of a sandwich. 

I cannot imagine what my private excitement wanted 
from the Russians. I knew they had two legs. I was per- 
fectly familiar with their uniforms and their faces. They 
did no more than salute me smartly as they raised a 
barrier to let me in, and salute again twelve miles further 
on when they let me out. But in my imagination — and that 
is better than nothing — the world of 1 913 had returned. 

Teheran was my first taste of civilisation since Jerusalem, 
for between the two cities there is none except in the eyes 
of those passionate suitors of the Arab, tragic in their 
surrender to so elusive a love. The food and wine were 
superb, for the Persians are among those nations of the 
world who care profoundly for their bellies. The capital 
was full of lovely women. I should, I think, have enjoyed 
myself if fate had led me from the Bank of Roumania to 


the Anglo-Persian, but the hot-house life of Bucharest 
would not have been left so far behind as I imagined. 

From a professional point of view the place was a maze 
of Intelligence activities. Complications wound in upon 
themselves, and a move on the board had to be thought 
out as far ahead as in post-war Vienna or Berlin. There 
were two sections in the city, and the work of one of them 
was so secret that I could hardly fathom it myself. Some 
of the best men had disappeared into Lord knew what 
back streets upon what duty, and I could only impress it 
upon anyone who was not too deep in plots to listen that 
they were, after all, soldiers, and that I was responsible for 
their welfare. 

We returned to Baghdad by Hamadan and Kermanshah 
— a routine journey marked only by the cliff-covering 
inscription of Darius and the sight of a big, gaunt wolf 
tearing unconcernedly at the carcass of a dead donkey. We, 
too, had halted for lunch, and I watched him for about a 
minute without realising that he was not a dog. As soon as 
I did realise it and had merely conceived — not moving 
hand or eye — the unkind and atavistic thought of taking a 
shot at him, he loped away. I have read, like all of us, of 
African game permitting well-fed lions to stroll through 
their midst. I have seen in Dorset a vixen and three half- 
grown cubs walk through grazing rabbits which barely 
raised their heads. Smell seems insufficient to explain this 
knowledge by one animal of another's mood. It would be 
less mysterious, less vaguely telepathic, if around each 
individual were a field of force, visible to the animal as, 
reputedly, it is to the mystic, and changing its appearance 
according to intent. 

All through this tour and in Baghdad I was in close 
touch with the Indian Army. The British officers some- 
times seemed to be trying too hard and obviously to con- 
form to our easier disciplines. What I saw of the Indian 


officers I liked, for by temperament I tip my hat to any 
man or woman who possesses effortlessly two completely 
different cultures. But the Hindu soldier puzzled me. Some 
of the sections engaged on straight military security were 
half Indian and half British, and it was my habit — bor- 
rowed from Robin Wordsworth — to interview every man 
at some length. I could not enquire after their families, 
since that might be considered improper, and the right 
approach was hard to find. They on their part seemed to 
ask for little but promotion — generally for the odd reason 
that some relative had been promoted. The excuse to 
Western ways of thought seemed insufficient. No doubt the 
poverty of India accounted for the begging; the difference 
of pay between lance-corporal and corporal meant far 
more to them than to British troops. But why so little 
dignity below the rank of havildar, and such impressive, 
bewhiskered swordsman's swagger above it? 

I managed to extract myself from Paiforce by tem- 
porarily exchanging jobs with Oswald Ormsby, then 
second-in-command in Cairo. That gave him two months 
of freedom to wander through unknown lands, and to 
decide if he would like the job of Commandant himself. 
Meanwhile I occupied his chair and flat. How good or bad 
I was as Commandant I do not know — probably very 
acceptable to the men and less to the officers, since I have 
never enough patience with a man I consider an ass ; and 
that is unfair, for he can be a willing and excellent ass and 
may be used as such. With the T staff I collaborated easily 
enough except on the one point of wasting Field Security 
sections. While active commands were calling for them and 
the invasion of Sicily was about to begin, our men were 
employed on work which could be done as well by local 
gendarmerie or the British Consuls and their expert agents. 

While I was away the Middle East had become no more 
than a busy and indispensable base, heavily engaged in 


Balkan politics and waiting for the chance to follow up its 
commandos. The most interesting security job I could find 
was to take over the Haifa section. That permitted me to 
retain my rank of major, since a long campaign by the 
Commandant to get field rank for a few of his officers had 
at last succeeded. For a few weeks I wondered at my lack 
of ambition, but self-questioning was soon forgotten in the 
joy of being independent again with a sound and most 
affectionate section, most of whom were old hands at the 

Our bread-and-butter jobs were control of the Port of 
Haifa with its trade, its trickle of Jewish immigrants and 
its commando base; the Lebanese frontier post of Ras 
Naqura; and the naval depot which had been hurriedly 
removed from Alexandria in 1942 and ever since, in spite 
of barbed wire and a desperate effort to catch up with the 
stock-taking, had supplied the Jews and Arabs with all the 
explosives they required. We also kept an eye on the coast 
as far south as Nataniya, on the Arabs, largely Christian, 
of Upper Galilee, and — though the prospects of decisive 
battle had evidently been postponed — upon the Plain of 

Another important duty was to stay in close touch with 
the excitements of expatriate military. The Greeks, as 
usual divided unforgivingly between monarchists and left- 
wing republicans, had a mutiny on their hands. The 
Yugoslavs, who seemed to be near-communists to a man, 
were indiscreet as any boasting bourgeois, and if I had 
been an officer of their own political police — and not on 
British territory — I should have shot half a dozen of them 
to encourage the rest. The most time- wasting puzzle of all 
was caused by a mere three Albanians. They were expelled 
from the Greek Brigade as incorrigible criminals, and were 
promptly sacked from every civilian job we obtained for 
them. The military police refused to lock them up on the 


grounds that they were civilians. The civil police claimed 
they were military and would have nothing to do with 
them. So they became the problem children of Field 
Security, and camped in the section yard crying loudly in 
Albanian for a non-existent Consul. Sometimes we would 
chase them down the street with oaths. Sometimes, worn 
out by their importunities, we would give them old shirts 
or a drink. I should be responsible for them still if some 
fool of an Albanian in Cairo had not suddenly declared 
himself honorary Consul. I instantly despatched to him 
his three compatriots. If they ran true to form, they fully 
justified his appointment. 

With the French, except for genial and routine liaison 
on the frontier, we had little to do. There was, however, a 
charming, middle-aged French officer who boldly stole his 
young sister-in-law from a Palestine convent, tried to 
smuggle her over the frontier into Lebanon and was 
caught. The scandal was enough to convulse the police 
and the religious. Satisfied that he was most respectable 
and that it really was at his wife's request that he so sus- 
piciously travelled with her pretty sister, I mentioned a 
weak spot in the military control of railway passengers and 
thereafter — except in a verbal report to Henry Hunloke 
who could always be trusted to appreciate any illegalities 
which contributed to the smooth running of our world — 
denied all knowledge of him. 

Russians entered our orbit when the prisoners-of-war 
freed in Italy were despatched through Haifa on their long 
journey across the desert and Persia. They were given 
several opportunities to declare whether they wanted to 
return to the Soviet Union or not. Most, like any other 
soldiers, wanted to go home; but some were pitiable in 
their indecision, fearing that the invitation to declare their 
sympathies was a trap. I saw the conducting officer on his 
return to Haifa and was appalled by his story — for our 


admiration of Russian victories led us all, with no evidence 
but wishful thinking, to believe that their intransigent 
politics had been greatly exaggerated. He had handed 
over his batch of prisoners in Persia. They were welcomed 
as if they had been deserters. Their salutes were not 
returned. Their badges of rank were torn off. Under cold, 
armed escort they were herded into the waiting transport. 
It was clear that Stalin had meant exactly what he said 
when he announced what would happen to any Russian 
who surrendered. 

Civil security work was quieter and deeper than in the 
Jerusalem of 1942. Field Security had no executive powers 
and paid no agents, but inevitably we were very well 
informed. The Haifa office was sometimes comparable to 
a provincial newspaper office, with thirteen fascinated and 
unconventional reporters under myself as editor. 

The Arab rebellion had been suppressed in 1938. The 
German menace had been removed. So the Jewish extre- 
mists were .at last free to attack the British. In Haifa they 
blew up the Income Tax office — the most completely 
satisfying use for gelignite that I can imagine — and part of 
Police Headquarters. The position of the Jewish Agency, 
which was responsible under the Palestine Government for 
the administration of the Jewish National Home, was 
extraordinarily difficult. The Agency was willing to use 
the Hagana, its not very secret army, to help us against the 
terrorist organisation, the Irgun Zvai Leumi; but that 
policy, at the best of times half-hearted, was far from 
rewarded by the Palestine Police who twice allowed their 
bag of interned terrorists to escape. History, so far as I 
know, has not yet revealed what the Agency's policy really 
was in 1944 and 1945. 

Inevitably the Hagana had close contacts with Military 
Intelligence. There was the question of the Jewish 
battalions, the real object of which both we and they 


courteously pretended to ignore. There were the desperate 
bargainings with the Gestapo across the Turkish frontier. 
In Haifa I was on most friendly terms with Emmanuel 
Wilensky, reputed to be the chief of the Hagana Intelli- 
gence, who was interrogating refugees, sending invaluable 
information direct to London and protecting us against the 
infiltration of enemy agents far more efficiently than could 
we or the police immigration authorities. Friendship with 
the Jewish officials was easy and profitable, for each side 
precisely understood which duties we had in common and 
which we had not. 

I remember so well — and remembered especially in the 
bitter year of 1947 — the monthly conferences of Defence 
Security Officers and Field Security Officers. There we 
were, the pro-Jews balancing the pro-Arabs, without a 
policy or even the hope of a policy except to keep the 
peace while the Government at home made up its mind. 
We could see no solution to the Palestine problem but 
partition, and we were certain that peaceful partition was 
impossible without a powerful British garrison destined, 
by guerrilla warfare and assassination, to crowd the ceme- 
teries already over-populated by the gallant dead of the 
despairing Palestine Police. To evacuate Palestine and to 
allow Jews and Arabs to fight it out was a solution which 
only occurred to us in moments of exasperation with both 
contenders, and we were ashamed of the ill-tempered 
thought. I cannot believe that Bevin would ever have 
accepted so savage and irresponsible an end to the British 
mandate if Americans had then realised that, outside the 
movies and the Seven Pillars, Arabs really existed. 

We loved Palestine and the great ideal, and the Jews 
knew we did. It was the question of unlimited immigration 
which divided us. The British insisted that it was politically 
impossible. So it was without another Arab rebellion. We 
also said that it was economically impossible. So it was 


without a miracle, Our fault in Palestine was that we 
could never believe that we had laid the right foundations 
for a miracle. 

There cannot have been many of my Jewish colleagues 
who rejoiced at the death of a British soldier. Their eyes 
were too clear to be taken in by their own propaganda. 
From their point of view, once they were prepared to face 
independence and its consequences, there may have been 
no other solution but armed revolt. Yet, if it was necessary 
that the experiment, the patience and the partnership 
should end in blood, the taste of it must sometimes have 
been indistinguishable from the salt of tears ; and hatred 
easier to scream when reaching for a cheque book in 
New York than when the foresight of a rifle covered the 
enemy and creator, and the finger had to move. 

In the course of 1944 it was brought to the notice of the 
War Office that some of the regular troops had been in the 
Middle East for seven years, and some of the amateurs for 
five. So far there had been little loud complaint, for it was 
obvious that there were not the ships to move us nor the 
men to replace us. But when the Mediterranean was again 
open, neither the soldiers nor the few Penelopes who had 
remained faithful were any longer prepared to take absence 
for granted. In January 1945 my own turn came, and I 
committed, with some misgiving, my wife, my two children 
and myself to the squalid and lavatorial accommodation of 
a troopship. 

That I had been able to remarry I owed to the loyalty 
and understanding of Marina, herself since amply com- 
forted. That as a security officer I was permitted to choose 
a Hungarian subject, whose history and sympathies only I 
could guarantee, was due to the astonishing help and trust 
of Henry Hunloke and my Commandant. Even so the 


difficulties were nearly insuperable; and that youthful 
practice in stubbornness which had led me only to great 
friendship where there should have been great love was at 
long last justified and rewarded. Whatever power dis- 
played for me on the hills above Jerusalem the sight of the 
full moon rising and the sun setting, both simultaneously 
poised upon the horizon — I did not then know it was a 
familiar omen — preserved us and granted an end to all 
those emotional wanderings which are more tolerable to 
read of than they ever were to live. 

It is a story more idyllic and less bitter than the other, 
but too full of private sanctities. I can write of the self 
which was a past guest in my body, not of the self which is, 
for he is only half mine. The motives which I have 
ascribed to him in the limited context of war are those he 
really had, yet of course there were more which I cannot 
attempt to interpret. Love must have a poet for its 
author and narrative of such frankness that age would find 
it too intolerably moving and youth too destructive of 

That was the end of my war except for a ridiculous 
adventure under most questionable auspices which took 
me to Germany for the last two weeks. In the vast warren 
of London University where the staff of the Ministry of 
Information incontinently proliferated, one breeding bur- 
row belonged to the War Office. Some servant of State, 
doubtless sincere in the appreciation of his own ingenuity, 
had convinced the Treasury that officers capable of writing 
coherently upon a typewriter could, if directed by other 
officers, do a better job of reporting than experienced war 
correspondents directed by a newspaper. True, the depart- 
ment suggested subjects to military writers of the calibre of 
Cyril Falls and John North, but they hardly needed its 

Into this burrow went I, silently asking pardon from the 


Paiforce sections whose ration allowance, in spite of my 
correspondence and interviews and appeals, had only been 
enough to buy one small native meal a day. The appoint- 
ment carried staff pay, War Office pay and the privilege of 
living at home. For some weeks I drank with such courtesy 
as I could summon the Ministry of Information tea, and 
occasionally enquired if I could have enough work to 
justify the expenditure. It was at last suggested that I 
might like to go to Germany and write up the recent 
battles of the Guards Armoured Division. 

I was supposed to fly direct to Main Headquarters of 
21st Army Group, but my department made a mistake in 
the movement order and despatched me to Rear Head- 
quarters at Brussels. Once there it was pointed out that, 
though my credentials appeared to be in order, the posi- 
tion of Main Headquarters was secret and could not be 
revealed. Through the years we security men had carried 
out too thorough an education. As Brussels could neither 
turn me back nor send me forward, they told me to take 
a train to Genepp — which I think was railhead for the left 
flank facing Holland — and then, like a stranger in a 
London street, to ask again. 

I spent a soldierly night on the floor of a battered 
building in Genepp and grabbed a filling supper from a 
field kitchen. In the morning I had a journey, through 
sheets of rain, straight out of Kafka — by random transport 
to an unknown destination the name of which I was 
forbidden to ask. That in fact I arrived in time for lunch 
was proof that five years had not been wholly wasted. 

The next day I travelled up to Soltau with a press 
conducting officer, passing on the way through the deep 
valleys of bulldozed brick which were all that was left of 
Munster and Osnabruck. Having no transport of my own, 
which made impossible the schedule of visits tentatively 
proposed to me, I took the Press Camp for my head- 


quarters and borrowed lifts in any available cars, collecting 
impressions of the end of the story which had begun for me 
in the Cairo of 1939. 

The last week of the war seemed to be marked by vicious 
rather than determined fighting. In the great arc formed 
by the North Sea and the Russian front an unknown 
number of the enemy was compressed into an ever- 
decreasing space. The country itself added to the prevailing 
air of mystery, for the extent of forest was almost equal to 
cultivated land; and upon the network of good roads, 
silent and empty, one had the sensation of malevolent 
watchers who, but for the fear of retaliation, would turn 
car or tank to baked gingerbread. Between the woods were 
the claret-coloured villages, the deep red eaves of the 
gables almost touching the ground, intact except for the 
odd house which had refused or omitted to hang out its 
white flag and been blasted by the passing armour. 

For me, who had spent my non-combatant war in close 
and continual contact with civilians, the cold, necessary 
militarism was a shock. Fraternisation did not exist, for the 
Germans were untouchable, not only from our antipathy 
but in fact. Pubs and shops were shut. Billets were emptied 
of their inhabitants before the troops moved in. There 
were no women to be seen. The world of steel and trees was 

The concentration camps had had their effect. Many of 
the troops had seen Belsen and Sandbostel with their own 
eyes; most had talked to someone who did see them. 
Prisoners-of-war, except for S.S. men, were considered 
blameless, but I had the impression that when any German 
civilian complained of our frigid severity — for they were 
whining already — he was likely to hear the word Belsen in 

I myself was in Sandbostel two days after it was cap- 
tured. Many of the prisoners had been evacuated, but little 


could yet be done to clean the camp. I suppose I have seen 
more than most men of extremes of filth and poverty in 
strange places, but Sandbostel was a degradation of the 
human body beyond experience or imagination. The per- 
vading smell was that of very dirty pigs. Even the com- 
parison is today meaningless, for there are few farms like 
those of my boyhood where you could smell the pigs two 
hundred yards away. Amidst the dysentery dung squatted 
or walked figures in striped pyjamas. It was the camp 
uniform. They were more human squatting; when they 
walked, you could see the terrible thinness and the puppet- 
like uncertainty of legs. It rained continuously. They no 
longer noticed weather. 

There was a story then current that when Belsen was 
taken a great trench was dug and the camp guards were 
ordered to fill it with the bodies of the dead inmates of the 
camp. While they were down in the trench the bulldozers, 
without any definite order given, swept back the earth over 
the guards as well. It is hard to conceive British troops 
taking into their own hands revenge for outraged humanity ; 
but, if the story is true, I do not think the men concerned 
have any more reason to reproach themselves, merely 
because their court of justice was instinctive, than the jury 
at a murder trial. No civilised man has ever had to weigh 
such evidence as was presented to them. 

Travel had lost the slap-dash quality which normally 
characterised military driving. Roads off the main axis of 
the advance were avoided unless the tracks of our own 
vehicles were plain to see. Roads where the crown but not 
the verge had been cleared of mines by the indefatigable 
sappers were taken cautiously; and trucks which a week 
before would have roared past each other, right-hand 
wheels off the metal and damn the consequences, edged by, 
wings almost touching, while each driver tried to avoid 
forcing the other on to the verge. It seemed a pity to die in 


the last week of the war. Though on parts of the front there 
was fighting right up to the cease-fire on the morning of 
May 5, the main objective of unit commanders was to 
demonstrate but not to lose a life. 

For the nights of May 4 and 5 I was staying at one of the 
headquarters messes of the Guards Armoured Division. 
They provided me with a comfortable farm room, some 
excellent light literature and more than my fair share of 
the wines captured from the cellars of the Burgomaster of 
Bremen. I must have tried the perfection of their manners 
hard. I came from the War Office. I was fifteen years older 
than any of them. My bar of medal ribbons had fallen 
somewhere into German mud — so dubious a story that I 
was compelled to a more than English reticence about 
myself. And, anyway, they proposed to write the story of 
their own battles without the help of my department. 

Yet never for one moment was I allowed to feel an 
intruder upon the celebrations with which they ended 
their war ; nor, I hope, did any of them perceive a loneli- 
ness which could only have surrendered to the wines of 
Roumania, of Greece, of Syria and Palestine. That final 
experience of war at last revealed to me its true essence : 
loneliness among strangers. Hardly ever had I felt it. 
The army had been to me far more of a home than to 
my fellows, gathering me again to my own countrymen, 
permitting the outward pattern of my life to continue and 
providing it with the illusion of an object. 


I am always ready to hear a man talk shop so long as he 
can express himself. How he masters his material, why 
this way and not another, and what the conflict is 
between his real and his imagined purpose — though this 
one can but deduce from his eloquence — fascinate me in 
the hedge- trimmer as in Cellini. That is my excuse, for I 
have invariably tried to write what I myself would like to 
to read. 

I have reached in my profession only a rank equivalent 
to a wartime major-general — among, that is, the first 
two hundred, any of whom may as easily be retired to 
discomfort as advanced to higher authority. But at that 
level practice is what counts. One can leave theory to the 
majors and the marshals, and concentrate upon command. 

The life of a writer, especially if he is a slow writer, is 
inert. He must keep to daily hours, yet he has not the 
human society of the office; and a desk is less, not more 
endurable when there is no boss, no subordinate, no 
secretary for casual conversation, never a cheerful or a 
difficult client. His working day is short, for no man can 
drive imagination more than five hours; but at the end of 



it he is exhausted and, until unwound by time and alcohol, 
a poor companion to his family and friends. 

In theory he can take a holiday when he wishes; in 
practice he must ask the boss — himself, that is — whether 
so unstandardised a workshop can possibly afford it. Nor 
can he ever know whether idleness is essential, repaying 
lost time with doubled energy, or whether he is merely 
being lazy. 

There is no one who can promote him, no one whom it 
is worth while to impress with his ability or charm. What 
the public think he is worth, that and no more he will be 
paid. Editor, publisher and agent may ease for him tem- 
porarily the working of the law by which they, too, are 
bound, but he cannot evade it. 

What then is the compensation which can bind a man 
who is no great lover of the study and has indeed far more 
affinity to the printer than the librarian into a skilled trade 
where the working conditions are intolerable and the wage 
uncertain? It is, I suppose, the making of an object which, 
to human perception, did not exist before. 

That phrase is far looser than it appears. Make a chair 
without any blue-print from a plank in the garage and a 
fallen pear-tree, and certainly you will have created an 
object which did not exist before ; make imitation Louis XV 
as efficiently as you like, but it did exist before. The grada- 
tions of originality between the two are the business of the 
critic. That is what he is for : to remind the mass-producer 
that he could make as much money quite as pleasantly in 
commerce, and to assure the determined worker in plank 
and pear-tree that his chair is indeed a creation and com- 
mendable, but that he should study the anatomy of sitters. 

Thus if we are to judge the self-delusions of a man who 
claims to make, we must know to what standard he does 
his making. I do not believe that there is enough com- 
pensation in merely giving the public what it thinks 


it wants, nor have I any excited opinion of the writer who 
purposefully and for the sake of forced originality gives the 
public what it does not. To be a craftsman is to offer your 
own interpretation of life and its events in an accepted 
form, and so to handle a familiar medium that it will carry 
and transmit your own taste, your own faults and your 
own splendours. 

I try to present my goods to the passer-by with the 
clarity which politeness demands. Then, if he does not like 
them, there is no shame; and if he does, my personal 
satisfaction is the greater. For that reward I returned to 
my craft in 1945 when both economic security and my 
enjoyment of my fellows would have been better satisfied 
in Intelligence or the administration of enemy territory. I 
had only practised the profession for four years and never 
written anything but security reports for six, but even in 
war there were indications that my strength was in words. 
I learned to control my own actions and those of my sub- 
ordinates as well as any other competent citizen with some 
experience of leadership, but where I surpassed him was in 
giving a clear picture of what the actions and their 
environment were. 

I did not become a writer until the far end of my youth, 
though I showed some promise of it at the beginning. I had 
a classical education and, from the age of sixteen on, 
enjoyed it. A sense of style in writing the dead languages I 
never possessed — a curious failure for one who in later life 
would pick up the feel and sentence rhythm of a modern 
language as naturally as a parrot — but in the translating of 
them I found my only discipline. I was never content until 
I had rendered into living English what I conceived to be — 
frequently on inadequate evidence — the thought of the 
Greek or Latin author. To this carefulness I added that 
of writing poetry, with a preference for the sonnet or any 
other verse form so long as it was sufficiently difficult. 


These led me to the rhyming dictionary and the over- 
poetical adjective, and the best productions of my 
melancholy muse were about as bad as the worst of 
Matthew Arnold. For the rest, my education left me 
an empty rather than an angry young man, with an 
indifference to religion, to self-discipline and to any 
authority, and a respect only for scholarship. Life has 
gently tempered the latter, but restored my ethical sense. 
I have a fascinated interest in even the wildest of heresies 
which will explain some aspect of apparent purpose, a 
liking for hierarchy in the government of men and an 
erratic sternness in government of myself. 

At Oxford I turned to English Literature. When I had 
some success in my final schools, it is odd that it never once 
occurred to me to become some sort of literary man. My 
impatience for the life of commerce or action was quite 
certainly right, for, though I knew very well what words 
could be made to do, I had nothing whatever to put into 
them. Never was a youth more ignorant of the motives and 
emotions of his fellow human beings. Under a pretence of 
worldly wisdom too emphatic to be easily exposed, my 
conception of the world was unreal as that of a woman's 
weekly, and only in language more urbane. My own son at 
twelve was a far more satisfactory social animal than I at 

Once in Roumania this waste ground of ignorance was 
filled as fast as a rubbish tip. Some pieces of it were levelled 
off, but of value only as playing fields. I became a tolerable 
and understanding companion for men ; indeed the self of 
today would be delighted to be invited to dinner by the 
self of then. But to women I could give no companionship 
at all. Either I ignored them or I was intoxicated by the 
slight and enchanting physical differences between them 
and the very considerable physical difference from myself. 
Except for poems to girls — a more admirable subject for 


the short lyric than nature study — I had nothing to write 
about and did not try. 

It was at the age of twenty-nine, eager to achieve a 
financial independence which would allow me to follow 
Marina, that I first hurled myself at writing. By then I was 
familiar enough with Geoffrey Household to dislike him, 
and the mood of self-pity at least led to a deeper sympathy 
with my fellows. My working attitude towards them — my 
conception, that is, of reality — was solid enough to be put 
into the waiting words. 

I chose the short story, going straight for the hardest 
form. I never even considered the novel. Whether I was 
merely impatient of its length or felt instinctively that I 
was not ready for such large responsibility I do not know. 
I am still inclined to think the novel an artless form — or at 
any rate a lot more artless than we practitioners like to 

It is curious that a man changes far more as a thinking 
and interested organism than he ever does as a craftsman. 
In those early stories, written in the brown and violet 
mausoleum of my Spanish flat or the clean pension bed- 
room which succeeded it, my aim was much as it is today 
though I could not have explained the target. Money was 
the driving force, yet I never attempted to tailor my stories 
to the requirements of the commercial magazine; on the 
other hand I could see no virtue in the self-conscious imi- 
tations of Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield which were 
the uncommercial fashion, and it seemed to me that the 
experimenters were all jammed together in a blind alley. 
Hemingway burst through the end of it taking the walls 
with him, but even if I had known the work of that magni- 
ficent artist I doubt if I should have admired it as I do 
now — an admiration well this side of idolatry, for I can 
seldom feel affection for his characters. They would be 


easier company if the painful accidents so liable to affect 
their virility were permanent. 

Those first stories of mine had no solidity at all. The 
beginning and the end might pass, but one led to the other 
through too undisciplined a middle. I was getting under 
the skin of my characters, not under that of any reader. 
One tale, I remember, was dressed with whole garlic 
cloves of Spanish dialogue to give it atmosphere. So, for 
me, it did ; and if the reader were to find my atmosphere 
merely fog I did not care. In that I was closer than I 
believed to the school which esteemed fidelity of self- 
expression and little else. Whether you make the emotional 
interplay of your characters so obscure that the story 
means nothing unless verbally explained, or whether you 
lard it with blasphemies in foreign tongues, you have failed 
in the first demand of your craft: to make your meaning 
clear not only to your own literary set, but to a well- 
educated stockbroker. You are not entitled to assume that 
he is an amateur psychiatrist or that he speaks Spanish. 

One of the tales found a market in the old London 
Mercury. I undid the wrapper, pleasurably anticipating the 
feeling of triumph which should caress the beginner at the 
first sight of himself in print. What actually I felt was more 
like the shock of a cripple, brought up among the beautiful 
and good, at the first sight of himself in a mirror. The 
images which at the time of writing had thronged into and 
out of my mind were not there. Of course they were not. 
One cannot distil the scent of a hyacinth and have the 
hyacinth itself. But I was not accustomed to the cruelty of 
print and unjustly disappointed. 

The dead years in America passed and I was well into 
my thirties, still without a profession or the beachcomber's 
temperament which might have compensated for its 
absence. Hack writing had no bad effect, for there was no 
temptation to fall into the cliches and imprecise vocabulary 


of the journalist, both inseparable from speed and flourish- 
ing in the first draft of every writer. The encyclopedia and 
the broadcasting plays were for children and demanded 
simplicity. So I did not form any vicious habits — except 
perhaps to condemn the whole literary craft because its 
more commercial practitioners seemed to obtain no satis- 
faction whatever to make up for the uncertainty of income. 

By now life had equipped me well with experiences and 
fairly well with the power to relate one to another, so that 
my world, right or wrong, was a consistent whole. All 
which had been left out was content, and that was amply 
provided in my missionary journeys for John Kidd. When 
I returned to London from South America, I had little 
fear of not finding a reasonable living in the largeness of 
the world. I had no ambition, and it was late to look for 

It may be that we cannot avoid fate — though I refuse 
to believe in so human and Old Baileyish a conception as 
Karma. But I see no reason at all why I should ever have 
become a craftsman if the managing director of John Kidd 
had not appointed a nephew of his to travel the Dominions 
instead of waiting for me to be free. The result was that 
when Europe and South America had been visited there 
was nowhere else for me to go. 

The firm told me to hang on for six months, and mean- 
while to call on the big London printers to whom their 
regular travellers had never been able to sell. Since I, no 
more than they, was permitted to offer bribes to the 
machine-minders I was not expected to bring in many new 
customers, nor required to give a close account of how I 
spent my time. When I felt that I had worked long enough 
at the impossible, I carried on negotiations for an agency 
to import Spanish wines. I also wrote The Salvation of Pisco 
Gabar, spreading the essence of Peru upon the foundation 
of a character who could have lived there but did not, and 


of two stories of the high Andes which I had heard in the 

The typescript went off to America, whence some three 
weeks later a shower of gold and compliments descended 
upon me. The latter I accepted cautiously — not that I was 
to develop for another twenty years the self-protective 
armour of the writer against success and failure, but I 
could see no convincing reason for the effect of what I had 

The Salvation of Pisco Gabar was quite unsaleable. It had 
no women in it; the end was strongly religious; its length 
was over twelve thousand words. That it should collect a 
jackpot after a mere six days in the office of Brandt & 
Brandt was due not to the cams of the commercial fruit 
machine but to the interplay of sympathetic personalities. 
Bernice Baumgarten gave it to Ted Weeks of The Atlantic 
Monthly, exacting a promise that he would read it on the 
train from New York to Boston. Ted recommended it to 
his editor-in-chief, Ellery Sedgwick, who took it, demanded 
more and offered to finance the writing of a novel. The 
wind was fair, and for once I did not try to sail against 

It is perhaps forgivable that when a man has entered a 
new profession he should model his behaviour upon his 
own romantic idea of its practitioners. In December 1935 
I went down to the South of Spain to start the novel, and 
rented a mill-house at Torremolinos, then happily un- 
known to the tourist agents. Indeed my house would have 
had little appeal to the motor-coach traveller. The terrace 
overlooked the club-house of the local fascists and was 
occasionally occupied by the militant left-wing whose 
armed leaders would politely knock at my door late at 
night and request permission to man the defences of the 


Republic. Equally politely I would grant it, set out refresh- 
ments and go, or not, to bed. 

I acquired an excellent old cook, and explored the 
local cellars for Montilla, which on its home ground 
I prefer to sherry. I had no patience with any Bohemianism 
where my belly was concerned, and I proposed to indulge 
the budding genius with rather more freedom than I 
should have allowed to the commercial traveller. I set up 
my typewriter upon the tiled terrace which overlooked the 
Mediterranean as well as the forces of reaction, and wrote 
the opening chapter of a novel which was to deal — though 
how I was far from clear — with the lives and thoughts of 
intelligent, but not necessarily educated outcasts bound 
together by a community of tastes. 

And all was well, one would think. But when a man sets 
out to live a life unrestrained by the common conventions, 
he must expect the disorder also to be uncommon. Released 
from the respectability of the businessman, I proceeded to 
mismanage my life as loudly and eccentrically as some 
pot-careless squire of the eighteenth century. The un- 
christened novel, later to be The Third Hour, progressed 
little further than its opening. Emotional storm was respon- 
sible. Had I been more experienced, I should never have 
allowed it to shock me out of work, for production is less 
easily halted by distress than by the slightest fever or a 
late night. While I have always been able to do a long and 
satisfactory day's work in office or army with a hang-over, 
I cannot write at all. The life of a craftsman was leading 
me to moderation long before it was reinforced by 
advancing middle age. 

I returned to London just before the Spanish Civil War 
broke out. I was strongly tempted to run away from 
domesticity and the difficulties of writing, and to join the 
Republicans ; and yet was infuriated by the fact that volun- 
teers were engaging themselves for the sake of Democracy 


or Communism or some confounded panacea for the toiling 
masses, and not one of them for love of Spain. The demo- 
cracy of Spaniards is so absolute that they do not need its 
more punctilious forms of political expression. Indeed, it 
would not work at all, either at home or in the Americas, 
if they had not brought the art of revolution to such a pitch 
of efficiency that it is quite as effective as a General 
Election and usually costs no more in lives. 

Why, then, was I, holding these views, not for Franco 
rather than for the Republic? Above all, because I loved 
and pitied the individuals who made up Spain. I knew the 
ironworkers of Bilbao and the agricultural labourers of 
Andalusia. Courage and independence, nobility of man- 
ners, a pride that was unaggressive formed a proletariat 
so unproletarian that the very name was an insult. Yet 
they were treated with the full cruelty of early nineteenth- 
century economics. So long as poverty compelled them to 
work, nobody cared whether or not they ate. At least 
the Republic, with the Mexican example before it, was 
attempting legislation for the improvement of wages and 
working conditions. 

I honoured the Republic, too, for its grant of regional 
autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque Provinces. I admit 
that this from a foreigner is impertinence. To the Castilian 
as to the Englishman regional autonomy has always 
seemed a betrayal of history, and he knows well that in a 
country of genial anarchists there must be a powerful 
brake on the centrifugal force. So I can only plead an 
emotional delight that the Basques had obtained their own 
republic, and an anger more personal than that of 
politically-minded demonstrators when Franco and Ger- 
man aircraft destroyed it. 

With the indignation of the Republic against the Church 
I profoundly sympathised, though I am too unorthodox a 
Christian to claim the right of a protestant to be impatient. 


The Church in Spain, with its willingness to use arms, 
its absorption of wealth, its political patronage and its 
idle mouths had to be reduced to the more reason- 
able proportions of the Church in France. That the 
prayers of the ascetic which perfume the still sky above 
Toledo should influence us all I can believe; for such 
intervention the forced fasting of a spiritually heroic people 
might be a small price to pay. But when paid for an inordi- 
nate host of the black-robed, multiplying like the black- 
coated in any mundane war, starvation is unaccept- 

Summer in London restored my equanimity, and slowly 
persuaded me that the Spanish quarrel was not clear 
enough for one who saw opposing political creeds in shades 
of grey, never in black and white. The novel, however, 
still stuck fast. Short stories for the ever-generous Atlantic 
Monthly just paid the butcher and the wine merchant, and 
several of them finished in Edward O'Brien's anthologies 
which in those days decided the top boys and girls of the 
year. But I have always distrusted the opinion of examiners. 
Their accolade gives me a spurious sense of triumph like 
that of the successful businessman who has outwitted the 
auditor. Meanwhile, Jack MacDougall on a visit to 
America heard of the new author and put up another 
advance. Honour forbade me any longer to tell myself that 
I was quite incapable of writing a novel. 

We let the flat — always a useful source of income — and 
went down to a little guest-house at Beachley in the penin- 
sula between Severn and Wye. There in the autumn 
garden, undisturbed and perhaps inspired by the Severn 
tides which foamed yellow up and down the narrows 
twenty yards away, I worked at a speed I have never 
approached since and at last came to know what in the 
world I was writing about. From Beachley we went on to 
Tangier. I hardly noticed the move. The world of imagi- 


nation was dominant. In May 1937 the novel was finished 
after a year and a half of gestation. 

There was enough material in The Third Hour for four 
novels — a common fault of beginners — and until war filled 
up the void I regretted that I had been so generous. For a 
first book it had a considerable succes d'estime, and it sold 
well enough to clear the advances and provide a few 
hundred pounds as well. The reviewers were kind to the 
story-telling but disliked the politics. The public took the 
politics far too seriously and the story-telling for granted. 
Those who loved the book still do, so that at least there 
must be a great richness of texture. 

I was unconscious of any political preaching of my own. 
I had told the picaresque stories of several men and women 
from several nations, and shown their longing for some 
purpose greater than themselves which no religion or 
political creed could supply. To clear the ground for them 
I had to hold the illusions of capitalist, fascist and com- 
munist under a continual harassing fire of irony. Then I 
allowed the discontented to advance to their own purpose. 
My characters had the axe to grind, not I; and while I 
profoundly believed — as a novelist must — that for them 
the solution was right, I was not recommending monas- 
teries of outlaws as a panacea for the ills of the nineteen- 

With The Third Hour out of the way, I suffered from a 
financially alarming occupational hazard which has never 
left me and which I still refuse to accept as inevitable. I 
give myself a month or two of idleness and then sit down 
to another book. It opens magnificently; it proceeds to ten 
thousand words; it falters, and I suspect myself of laziness. 
I leave it alone and perhaps write a short story. 

When I return to the manuscript of such high hopes I 
see at once that it faltered because the subconscious critic 
knew that it was poor, while the anxious author believed 


that it was good. I start another, and exactly the same 
thing happens. I am working hard, although I cannot 
avoid the thought that I might as well be enjoying idleness. 
But if I do not work, how am I ever to produce a novel at 
all? And so the vicious circle continues until my daemon, 
who is as unsophisticated and indeterminate as a night- 
gowned guardian angel on a pious postcard, decides that 
the time has come to break it. No doubt he — or she — 
would come more intelligently to the rescue if I did not 
insist so strongly on being master of my fate. 

Meeting for the first time this impotence I was appalled 
by it. In the autumn of 1937, with a mass of reading for a 
historical novel, we went to Portugal. The only result was 
a fine chapter in the middle of a non-existent book. Some- 
how an income of about six hundred a year was maintained. 
It sufficed for simple luxuries, and winters abroad were 
very cheap. 

One day in December 1938 I wrote the opening pages 
of a novel — a habit of which I was growing very weary. 
But these seemed exciting, and eventually I let them go to 
the printer with hardly a change. To what incidents these 
pages were to lead I did not know, but the whole of the 
story was inherent in them, and Rogue Male began, week 
after week, to live. I observed, faintly protesting, that 
whereas I had intended a picaresque story in which Fear 
would supply the suspense, what I was really writing had 
some affinity to Buchan without his coincidences and with 
the cry of human suffering unsuppressed. But who was 
I to complain of inspiration? I could have wished the 
angel less prepossessed with violence, but if that was what 
it wanted I was prepared to place my craft at its disposal. 

With those two first novels my laborious method of 
working became standardised, and through the years has 
only gained in slowness. I cannot think that I am a natural 
writer at all. To me it is a miracle that the great Vic- 


torians should have been able to rise from work at mid- 
day — Trollope indeed at breakfast- time — with neat sheets 
of finished manuscript on desk or floor, demanding nothing 
more than correction in proof. 

In pencil I drive a sort of pilot tunnel through the 
underground darkness of the imagination. This is by far 
the hardest work, and I never sit down to it with any real 
trust that it can be done at all. On a good morning the 
result is some three pages legible only to myself. In the 
evening I pass this inchoate mess through the typewriter, 
and it comes out with the action settled, speed about right, 
smoothness poor, and the paragraphs close to their final 
shape. A five-hour day, between morning and evening, 
will produce anything between seven hundred and a 
thousand words. 

With at last the complete typescript in front of me, I 
retype the whole lot, modelling the characters nearer to 
their originals in life or imagination, strengthening the 
dialogue, and correcting the sentences so that any one of 
them can be read aloud without pain to tongue or ear. 
This retyping crawls at a rate of ten or twelve pages a day 
and, though exhausting, is at last capable of giving me 
pleasure. Stevenson said that the fun of writing is re- 
writing. I should go further, and claim that it is the only 

Rogue Male, years later, revealed to me the sort of con- 
glomerate through which the pilot tunnel is driven. A 
favourite book of mine at the age of eight was Patterson's 
Man-eaters of Tsavo — strong meat for the young, but I was 
not more than pleasurably frightened by it. Possibly I lost 
my copy in the first term at a preparatory school. At any 
rate I never saw the book again until I reread it nearly 
forty years later after the war. Suddenly I was pulled up 
by a sentence which was nearly word for word in Rogue 
Male, and I soon found half a dozen fainter echoes. There 


was no doubt about it. That was where my interest in Fear 
had come from. Yet today I should not rate Patterson's 
anatomy of terror very high — perhaps because in all litera- 
ture which is not ephemeral the better drives out the good, 
and his lions are surpassed by Jim Gorbett's tigers. 

Whether the reception of Rogue Male was more than 
polite I have forgotten, for it was published in September 
1939 when I had already left England. Certainly I felt a 
detached pleasure at a sheaf of press cuttings which reached 
me in Ploesti, but truth at that time seemed so much more 
provocative than fiction. Which, by any definition of the 
real, was nearer to reality I do not know. The attack upon 
the oil wells petered out into a dining club for diplomatic 
clerks. Rogue Male is still in the present. 

Before it in England and after it in America came my 
first book of short stories, The Salvation of Pisco Gabar. I was 
uncritically in love with this, and a very mixed press per- 
mitted me to remain so; for every reviewer who singled 
out a story as particularly offensive, there was another who 
chose the same story as the best. Today I should rate the 
book as no more than promising, for several of the tales ran 
too close to the traditional smoking-room yarn — not that I 
despise the form, always provided that the characters are 
unconventional, the irony at least as important as the 
forthright action, and the cake from which the slice of life 
has been cut a living cake still extending in its own space 
before the beginning of the story and after its end. The man 
of letters who attacks the smoking-room yarn is in danger of 
finding Heart of Darkness undetected in the Congo to 
blow him clear out of the water. 

In July 1945, when I called at the depot in Olympia and 
exchanged my uniform for a government suit and hat, the 
achievement of pre-war life — three books and a children's 


story — was not enough to promise support for the four of 
us in the spirited life to which we were accustomed, 
though admittedly the babies had not been accustomed 
to it very long. But the war had packed me with self- 
confidence — a deal easier to attain when writing is 
in the future not the present — to which was added the 
encouragement of The Atlantic Monthly, expressed by imme- 
diate acceptance of three short stories and an advance of 
cash for a novel. There was also a film contract into details 
of which I will not go lest irony should change to invective 
and be roundly returned to me in the High Court by 
counsel for the plaintiffs* It would in any case be too 
savage dentistry upon a gift-horse which provided me with 
a large cheque when most I needed it. 

The England to which we Middle-Eastern exiles re- 
turned was a foreign country. Its overpowering dullness 
shocked me even more than it did Ilona; for she, as a 
Hungarian, naturally expected the solid British culture to 
be somewhat lacking in vitality. The whole people seemed 
to be living to the motto of their ration books : do nothing 
until told; and the impression of those of us who had been 
away five or six years was exactly that of a Capitalist 
tourist entering a Communist state. Discipline might pass, 
as the price of victory ; but I resented having to pay it for 
political experiment. The Army, which I had always felt to 
be the very ideal of Socialism in its willing and common 
surrender to a common cause, was a far more friendly and 
less pompous organisation than the State. 

Since the individual and his free development are pre- 
cious to me, I loathe the State control which is inseparable 
from Socialism. Yet if I were a citizen of an undeveloped 
peasant country, where the individual has hitherto had no 
chance of development, I should certainly support a 
strong, centralised, Socialist Government. In China, for 
example, I might be a Communist. But in France I should 


be a Monarchist; in Spain, a Liberal. For my own country, 
where the tendency of the State to sweep up all untidy 
ends of liberty must be continually checked, I am probably 
an anarchist. 

In argument with politicians I am always beaten. I 
cannot express what I believe, whereas they express what 
they cannot possibly believe. But in the last two years I 
have modified the contempt with which, in thought and 
in fiction, I treated the man whose sole qualification to 
represent the people was the mouthing of what they 
wanted to hear. 

The most unexpected experience which ever happened 
to me, far surpassing the curiosities of South America and 
war (since they were in the pattern of my life) was to be 
elected a borough councillor. No one else could be found 
to stand. I agreed — for there was I complaining at being 
tied to the creatures of my imagination, and here was a 
chance of evenings in a world of action, however mild — 
and since I was certainly not a Socialist, I permitted 
myself to be called Conservative. 

The administration I enjoyed ; the politics bored me, for 
there is no need of them in the running of a borough. Press 
and public, however, like the council chamber to be a 
cheap and inaccurate debating hall, and it is the demo- 
cratic duty of councillors to satisfy them — a fairly harmless 
duty since all the work has already been done in the 
committees where politics rarely intrude and every 
question is patiently considered on its merits. I can 
think of no better way to run local government than 
through unpaid, conscientious citizens who make the job 
their hobby. 

As a civic dignitary I was only an amused and compe- 
tent actor, but the service did teach me that in deriding 
Members of Parliament I had been attacking the wrong 
men. The whole basis of politics is the hard-working, 


unintelligent worker in the ward whose enthusiasm is kept 
alive by what he or she wrongly believes to be the 
principles and practical intentions of the opposite party. 
Their opinions and their tastes are reflected in the executive 
committees. A coven of retired grocers and colonel's 
wives, savagely anti-Socialist, an unseemly chapel of 
plumbers and female civil servants, savagely anti- Conser- 
vative, choose the candidate, distort policy, bombard their 
leaders in Parliament with telegrams of protest when they 
have been courageous, and of congratulation when they 
have sacrificed national to party interest. Even so, they 
sometimes fail to impress their prejudices upon an un- 
willing House of Commons; and the elected politicians, 
whom all my life I have blamed for ignorance and 
insincerity, should really be honoured as the barrier 
between their executive committees and national disaster. 
All must be forgiven to the Member, for he alone protects 
us from the full effects of democracy. 

But in 1 945 I could see only that the politicians had no 
desire to dispel the queues which ended at their feet. The 
family emigrated from London to remotest Devon and 
bought a house. Its position at the head of a creek off the 
Salcombe Estuary would have haunted the mind of any 
holiday-maker until he could return ; but to civilised man 
and woman, living there all the year round without paid 
labour — or, worse, with it — the place had nothing to offer 
but unlimited rabbits and eggs. House agents would have 
advertised it as 'suitable for artist or writer' — though 
why they should assume that such fastidious professionals 
will tolerate more discomfort than their fellows I have 
never understood. More likely to live upon a beauty 
of surroundings is the man who cannot create it for 

Production was low, and if we had not sold the house 
at a profit, the effect of idleness would have been more 


obvious than it was. The independent craftsman is com- 
pelled in self-protection to close his eyes to the threat of 
disaster lest he be over-influenced by it; and that optimism 
which appears irresponsible to an accountant or an Income 
Tax Inspector is in fact as essential as the guard-rail upon 
some malevolent machine. It can be removed for intervals 
of care and maintenance, but if it is not in place during the 
working year alarm inhibits or diverts the hand. 

The next move was to a rented house near Dorchester of 
enormous size and such generous ugliness that one could 
feel for it nothing but affection — an affection in my case 
redoubled because there my beloved Magyar first began 
to be fascinated by England and the English. All the time 
I was conscious of that heaven, the mutual love of a close- 
knit family, which is taken for granted by most men and 
women of goodwill, and for me was an undeserved reward 
surpassing the most exotic pleasures and excitements. 

Almost immediately I found that disconnected chapters 
fell into place, and that I was half-way through Arabesque. 
It was an uneven novel — for in the eight years since Rogue 
Male my taste had declined through lack of reading as 
much as lack of writing — into which I poured the essence 
of my Middle-Eastern experience. And this time I did have 
an axe to grind. I was infuriated by American ignorance 
of Palestine and the incompetence of our own official 
propaganda. I set out to show the Arab-Jewish problem 
from the neutral army point of view. It was a fair objective, 
since I understood Palestine better than all but a few 
specialists and could express what I knew more cunningly 
than they. 

In America, well reviewed and accepted as fair com- 
ment, it was the most profitable of all my books. In 
England it died still-born — and this at a moment when 
Palestine was topical and even the opinions of politicians 
were saleable. Those were the days when newspapers had 


little space for reviews or for advertisements, and it was 
hard to get a book noticed at all unless it was by an 
established writer. My publishers of that time assumed that 
I was. They had forgotten that eight absorbing years had 
passed since Rogue Male. My name was completely un- 
known except to the Intelligence Corps, whose purchases 
probably accounted for the few copies which were sold. 

I doubt if a writer is ever entitled to blame his publisher 
for low sales. Serious publishers are not salesmen, and do 
not claim to be. In England they differ only in their tastes; 
and what passionately interests them is the making of 
books, not of money. For books in general they will do any 
amount of propaganda. Book clubs, press campaigns, 
literary societies for old ladies — the publisher loves them 
all. But salesmanship appals him, and he is unwilling to 
earn the dislike of his equally gentlemanly competitors by 
lunching once a week in large provincial cities with his 
travellers and once a month with the director of an 
unscrupulous advertising agency. Were it his necessity to 
sell bananas in Spain, he would expect to do so by com- 
missioning a series of evening-paper articles on the 
superiority of the Banana to the Grape. 

It is inevitable that the publisher should have a split 
personality, divided between his love of literature and his 
desire to make a living. Frustrated as a mother, he is 
determined to be a midwife, and his taste, patience and 
humanity generally make him a good one. But the tough 
commercialism of which he is unjustly accused is limited 
to snatching with perfectly sincere regret the odd half- 
crown from printer and author, and to the search for the 
rainbow gold of the best-seller. When threatened by immi- 
nent bankruptcy, he puts his prices up instead of down, 
ignoring the fact that no ordinary member of the public 
ever buys a book unless it is paper-covered. Publishers 
know this but they do not believe it. My father, for 


example, knew that policemen could be bribed, but he did 
not believe it. 

Thanks to American sales, the failure of the English 
Arabesque was not disastrous, but it was a shock to find that 
I had to go back to the bottom of the literary snakes and 
ladders and start again. The result was that I strained for 
effect. I put an extra polish on style and made the next 
book carry all the assets I had — a setting both romantic 
and true, characters from Syria and Spain and half 
Europe, and what should have been a dark stream of 
excitement gathering in the mountain waters until it 
rushed headlong for the fall. But the fall was my own. I 
attained a blank failure. Since I was by no means flown 
with insolence — unless it were a Disraeli-like insolence of 
over-embroidering my waistcoat and insisting that I be 
heard — the fates were unkind. 

I must be content with having aimed The High Place at 
the sun and lost the arrow without even knowing whether 
it cleared the nearest bush. The novel was set on the Syrian 
frontier, and concerned a colony of anarchists who had 
reached the logical conclusion that only a third world war 
could bring about the desired abolition of the State. Since 
I was writing in 1948 and alarmed by the steady growth of 
State dictatorship in England, I had only to exaggerate 
my own resentment in order to create a hero and narrator 
who should be deeply involved in the anarchists' plot until 
he discovered that their intention was not merely to take 
advantage of war but to cause it. Yet I fear their trigger 
device, though scientifically correct, was unconvincing. 
Indeed, I was later told by an experienced diplomat that 
the provocative language used to each other at inter- 
national conferences by Russians and Americans was 
already so bad that no drugged cigar could possibly make 
it any worse. 

Still, that might have passed. So might my study of the 


Russian, the Spanish and the religious aspects of anarchism, 
all contributing with a reasonable economy of words to the 
final tragedy. Where, I think, I failed was in breaking my 
own rule. I did not make my meaning clear to the well- 
educated stockbroker. 

I hid a story within the story. I was, and am attracted 
by the Manichean heresy. I suspect that the battle between 
Good and Evil is unending, and that the triumph of Good 
on this planet of earth is not certain. Whether it is certain 
in a more universal purpose we cannot know, since the 
terms good and evil are relative only to human conduct 
and meaningless in any other context. We have no ready 
reckoner to tell us whether any course of action will cause 
more human suffering or less ; therefore we can only follow 
the dictates of conscience, and hope to heaven that it has 
a purpose. More we cannot claim for it, since conscience 
may lead us — as it did Elisa Cantemir in the novel — to 
what by any human standard is intolerable evil. Thus 
Evil must be the servant of the ultimate purpose no less 
than Good, and we are possessed by one or the other. 

Into this myth of dualism I fitted my characters. The 
servant of Ahriman was Elisa Cantemir; the servant of 
Ahuramazda, Anton Tabas. Oliver Poss, an international 
spiv with a Greek passport standing apart from the conflict, 
was a wholly amoral Pan. Eric Amberson, the hero and 
narrator, represented the Mithras who must be sacrificed 
for humanity; but since, like a chief witch of the old 
religion, he was only too willing to give up his life, the 
harder sacrifice of love, happiness and self-respect was 
demanded from him. 

Now, all this should not have been in the least apparent 
in the book, since Amberson himself was telling the story 
and unaware that he and the antagonists were playing 
their parts on two stages, one human and one divine. I 
used every conjuring trick of technique so that the religious 


dualism should pass clear over the heads of those for whom 
it meant nothing, and add a pleasure for any reader who 
picked up the symbolism. But the result was to leave in the 
air a vague and unsatisfactory sense of the supernatural, 
which was of course disastrous; and I never realised its 
presence until some contemptuous reviewer, intending to 
be unkind but blessedly revealing what was wrong, com- 
pared Elisa Cantemir to Rider Haggard's She. As I had 
conceived her, Elisa was a passionate but unfeminine poli- 
tical maniac and the last person in all fiction likely to go 
up in smoke. 

Even the rogues of Defoe cannot leave religion alone. 
This mounting uninvited into a too mysterious pulpit 
obliges me to satisfy curiosity and to answer the question 
of what I do believe. When I was in my twenties, dining in 
Bucharest with that liberal Byzantine, Canon Douglas, he 
told me that all my rag-bag of speculations could honestly 
be contained within the Church of England. It may be so, 
but I have to employ some far-fetched allegories before I 
can repeat the Creed. I am no more troubled by miracles 
than the centurion of Capernaum; and indeed I do not 
think that physicist and biochemist are now very far from 
explaining in their meaningless but useful words the source 
of power. I accept the Doctrine of the Trinity as a clear 
and magnificent definition of Godhead. Yet I cannot 
believe that any one of the great religions is less true than 

They provide maps, and the individual soul is wise to 
choose that which is most familiar to him, whether a 
Roman road map which shows the day's march as straight 
whatever the points of the compass, or the coloured inch- 
to-the-mile of the Hindu, or the child's atlas winch I 
myself prefer wherein detail is inadequate and unim- 
portant, and the general picture clear. Since I am not yet 
weary of this fife, I hate the thought of dying; but I am 


certain that when dead I am the earning of Life will be a 
harder and more intellectually adventurous task than the 
earning of a living, and that when the map is no longer 
two-dimensional I shall need all the self-discipline and 
knowledge which I have been able to acquire and the 
grace, which I have not deserved, of the Second Person of 
the Trinity, by whatever name He be called, if I am to find 
my way among the dreams. 

The failure of The High Place reminded me that I had 
not yet reached the age of contemplation when it is per- 
missible to promulgate heresies, and that my immediate 
duty was to support a family. A year's work had brought 
in no income — proof, at any rate, that it was honest. 

The obvious way of recovery was to write some fast- 
moving story of unlikely adventure. Speed, I knew, was 
one of my gifts — in spite of the laborious slowness with 
which the illusion is produced — and I was constantly being 
exhorted to write another Rogue Male. But I cannot analyse 
myself well enough to imitate myself. So I plunged for 
pure speed and imagination, and produced a commercial 
thriller called A Rough Shoot in the hope of selling it as a 
serial in America. In its genre I am not wholly ashamed of 
it, but the difference between this story and Rogue Male is 
the difference between cast iron and wrought. 

A Rough Shoot was bought by the Saturday Evening Post as 
a serial, and also made into a film — a very bad one. 
Almost simultaneously the Post took the finest of all my 
long short stories, Three Kings, so that I had more money in 
the bank than I ever had before or since. The first sale 
merely proved that my calculation was right, the second 
that my craftsmanship was triumphant. In one I had 
pleased the market; in the other I had pleased myself, but 
needed the confirmation of the market that my taste was 
not purely personal. There is no artificiality in the 


I have never been sure whether any story would sell or 
not, for my subjects are always unusual. If, in spite of the 
oddness, an experienced editor considers the story fit for 
mass reading, then there is every chance that I have hit 
my target. I may, of course, have fallen unconsciously into 
commercialism, but that is improbable unless I am playing 
with some entertaining fantasy without any undertones at 

Johnson declared that no man but a blockhead ever 
wrote except for money. What I think he meant to express 
— though one should not study too closely all the mush- 
room cloud from a Johnsonian bomb — was his detestation 
of the amateur for whom it was enough to have written at 
all. It would be fair to present the problem thus : if you 
cannot live by your writing, the translation into words of 
your own manner of thinking cannot be effective, for your 
whole aim and object is to be so compellingly good that 
the maximum number of people, whether they approve or 
not, will have to pay money to read you. The market is the 
ultimate test for the craftsman. That it should also be the 
first and only test for the hack is unimportant. 

I had no intention whatever of allowing A Rough Shoot 
to be published as a book, for I thought it too slight and 
ephemeral. The literary scholar of thirty-five years ago is 
still alive enough in me to be exasperatingly contemptuous 
of the mere story-teller. But weakly, and at last, I gave way 
to the insistence of my American and English publishers. 
A Rough Shoot was only forty thousand words, half the length 
of a novel, so I decided to write a sequel with the same hero 
and narrator and more true to life in that we would inspect 
the jolly schoolboyish character when he was overcome by 
darkness, defeat and revenge. A Time to Kill was meant to 
appear in one volume with A Rough Shoot — a story of attack 
followed by one of defence. 

But publishers dispose. Readers, they said — and they 


said it on both sides of the Atlantic — would not stand two 
stories in one volume. I do not know why. Personally I 
prefer to have eighty thousand words for my twelve and 
sixpence. Again I gave way — with the result that I was 
typed as a thriller writer, and not a very good one at that. 
My only sour satisfaction was that the public would have 
little to do with either book until offered as a paper-back, 
thereby proving that its business sense was as good as my 

I set both stories in Dorset because I wished my charac- 
ters to be free of foot, and I have no liking for description 
of the open north where the thermometer insists it is not 
cold though nothing but whisky will allay the discomfort of 
continual shivering. The western end of the chalk, not too 
closely populated, suits the mood of loneliness. Man on the 
short turf is apart from his fellows, and in a sense predatory 
upon them, since for his food and drink he must descend 
below the tree-tops. Meanwhile he may stand back from 
an England which, half-way to the horizon, recovers her 
youth and appears again a forest — ecstatic, as a man 
standing back from his beloved, that a beauty which was 
all of feeling is also a beauty to be seen. I delighted to draw 
the setting of A Rough Shoot from the four hundred acres of 
high farmland where I myself shared a shoot, though I 
could not allow to my narrator, who was a plain, provin- 
cial businessman, more poetry of description than would 
be in character. 

A writer explaining how he deals with his subjects is 
almost bound to fall into excesses of conceit and humility. 
They are both so necessary to him. Lacking conceit, he 
would stop trying for the better; lacking humility, he 
would not know what the better was. More entertaining 
and just as relevant is to explain why he is drawn to his 


subjects at all, for that at once becomes the story of those 
thoughtless and happy hours when the raw material of 
writing is fed into the unconscious. If poetry be emotion 
recollected in tranquillity, much prose has as its origin 
tranquillity recollected with emotion. 

To shoot for the pot has always refreshed me, combining 
my love of open country with the more urbane anticipation 
of a future meal. But, though a competent shot with rifle 
and pistol, I have never been more than a comedy figure 
with a gun. Anything which flies or runs — so long as it 
does — is reasonably safe from me. Occasional lessons have 
only driven my teachers to despair, for I am not even 
consistent in error. I may be under or over or peppering 
the next parish. 

The beginning of my sporting activity was as fraudulent 
as the rest of it. When I was at Oxford I was employed one 
summer to be a good and healthy influence upon a 
thirteen-year-old boy. The job called out a temporary 
sense of responsibility, and a self which was then unknown 
to me did it well; possibly I remembered the dreaming 
happiness of my own boyhood before 1914, and was 
determined to preserve it in another. This charming boy 
was expected to learn to shoot, and I to encourage him in 
the art. Day after day the gamekeeper hurled chunks of 
pottery into the air for us. Invariably the boy hit them, 
and I missed them; on the other hand, I enjoyed it, and 
he did not. So we came to a gentlemen's agreement under 
which I should shoot the rabbits while he entertained him- 
self as he pleased. The rabbits on that Somerset estate 
looked as if they had been bred by a circus conjurer. Some 
were black, some red as a fox, and some, fathered by 
liberal-minded, rabbit-coloured rabbits, were tortoise- 

Returning to October Oxford I could now claim, in a 
casual manner, to be able to shoot; and Ivor Barry invited 


me from time to time to annoy his father's pheasants. Thus 
I qualified for a future banker — not, of course, by reason 
of my prowess, but possibly because I knew all the correct 
gestures. They were almost in my blood, for when I was a 
very little boy I would make my father tell me bedtime 
stories of the shooting at Bilney in Norfolk and the game- 
keeper and the local characters. 

In Roumania one of the many saints of the Orthodox 
Church would sometimes close the bank long enough for 
a night and a day in the silent Danube marshes. I loved 
the morning flight for its unearthliness, its change, 
marked as that between waking and sleeping thoughts, 
from the city of men to the city of the birds. Closely follow- 
ing a peasant guide through darkness so black that there 
was no gleam of water, I arrived at nowhere and squatted 
in a waist-deep pit. Heralding the morning flight, teal 
bulleted overhead in twos and threes, their bodies just 
blacker than the night. Out of the grey came the grey 
geese, and after them, when the water was silver and the 
points of the rushes black against sunrise, the squadrons 
of the duck. Then the sun rose, and far away I could see 
the frontier of willows separating the sown from the desert 
of water in which no man lived but an occasional outlaw. 
One such, arriving with infinite precautions, I met at a 
peasant wedding. He was the local hero, and the bride's 
father was greatly honoured that he should have taken 
such a risk. The man was all misery and wet hair, his 
sheepskin cloak rotting with mud, and his person a 
biblical comment upon the fruits of murder. 

The feathered arrows of the half light were nearly 
always too fast for a slow arm encumbered by clothes ; but 
warmed and after breakfast I was tireless in the pursuit of 
snipe, caring greatly for my dinner and less for the sporting 
dogma that he must be shot because he is the hardest bird 
to shoot. To my palate the snipe surpasses the woodcock, 


always provided that he is free from a faintly fishy tang and 
has never seen a shop counter. 

The evening flights of September — since I do not mind 
leaches but I cannot stand cold — were much to my taste, 
and once in my life have I known what the first-class shot 
must feel. My companions were laid up with fever, due 
either to mosquitoes or a surfeit of water-melons, and I 
strolled out through the dusk along the top of a flood bank 
with no cover at all. The duck, confident that no one 
would ever attempt to shoot them from so improbable a 
position, committed suicide upon the end of my gun until 
it was too hot to hold. I could scarcely carry my bag, 
especially since I had to cover a quarter of a mile back- 
wards facing the dogs of a gipsy encampment. They set 
great store by the useless beasts, and it would have been 
unwise to kill. 

Once I shot in the Dobrudja, where the tumuli of the 
dead cover the steppe like ants' nests — perhaps a Scythian 
cemetery with room for twenty cemeteries between one 
grave and another, perhaps the last record of Darius' 
expedition while there was still leisure to bury the dead 
before the onset of starvation and empty wandering. 
Beyond this nomad's paradise and close to what then was 
the Bulgarian frontier, high vegetation begins again. There 
we came to two great hedges, thicker than even an aban- 
doned Dorset hedge, which enclosed nothing and seemed 
evidence of human intention rather than accomplishment. 
Over each hedge was a peregrine falcon. The tiercel and his 
mate had worked out a technique which proved that they 
were killing as much for sport as for hunger. The falcon 
would glide low along the foot of her hedge where part- 
ridges were cowering. Up would get the covey and fly 
across to the second hedge. Just before they arrived, the 
tiercel would strike, bagging one or missing. He then 
patrolled his own hedge until the partridges lost their 


nerve again and were driven back to the falcon. We four 
guns were in the middle of this fascinating game. We did 
occasionally drop a bird out of the covey, but for the most 
part the peregrines worked like a pair of ill-trained gun- 
dogs, a hundred yards ahead of us. 

In the years which followed Roumania my mind, 
enterprising in all but relaxation, paced the cage which I 
had made for it, and I never touched a gun until my 
return at the beginning of the war. Again there were 
morning and evening flights on the Danube marshes, and 
sometimes long tramps over the open plain — ten or more 
guns, with a hundred paces between them, walking mile 
after mile across the sunburnt stubble and fallow. Game 
got up so far away that full choke in both barrels was 
recommendable, and I was completely outclassed by the 
Roumanians, who were a people of keen shots with a strict 
and admirable code of game laws. 

In the Lebanon my ex-gamekeeper sergeant-major and 
I were bound together by a community of tastes which 
once exposed us to the delight and derision of two sections. 
We were about to start one of our pistol-shooting matches. 
The target was being nailed up when he and I simul- 
taneously spotted a snipe. We fell upon our bellies and 
crawled in its direction. To have killed a snipe with a 
.45 revolver would be a memory for ever. Twenty-six pairs 
of eyes watched us with amazement, for nothing less than 
a German spy bogged from his parachute could account 
for this lunatic behaviour. We fired together at nothing 
visible. None of them connected our slow and skilful stalk 
with the little brown bird which rose and obligingly 
settled again. Once more we got within twenty yards and 
fired. This time one of us must have been very close, for 
the snipe disappeared towards High Lebanon, producing 
every jink and trick in its repertoire. We returned and 
explained ourselves. But the word 'snipe' carried little 


magic for those highly intelligent townsmen. We might as 
well have said it was a sparrow. 

Snipe and Sheikh Fouad Douaihy persuaded us to 
explore a melancholy bog on the flats to the north of 
Tripoli. I put up nothing but a venerable hare. Each 
of us was taken aback at finding the other in so unlikely a 
spot, and his astonishment lasted a fatal second longer than 
my own. Sheikh Fouad was enchanted at this success, and 
nothing would content him but that we should drive some 
miles to a village station on the Tripoli-Aleppo line and 
eat the hare with a cousin — there was nowhere he did not 
have a cousin — who was the stationmaster. 

The stationmaster was naturally unprepared for such an 
invasion. He was a bachelor and lived in a room above the 
ticket-office, approached by a wooden step-ladder. Sheikh 
Fouad, however, appeared to have no doubt that he could 
cook a hare. I cannot even guess at his motives. He may 
have wished to assure this outlying member of his clan, 
who possibly was in trouble with his superiors, that he, 
Fouad, was on excellent terms with the British Army and 
could fix anything; or he may have known that the man 
had not had a square meal for weeks. Alternatively — and 
this is the more likely — he merely wished to give the lonely 
stationmaster an opportunity to entertain within his means 
the head of the clan. 

It was seven o'clock and we were ravenously hungry. 
The solitary porter was sent off into the night to buy herbs 
and wine. The stationmaster climbed to his bedroom with 
the hare. We three sat upon the hard benches of the 
ticket-office, drinking araq to keep out the draughts which 
howled through the wooden walls. After an hour and a 
half the porter returned. By then the sergeant-major and I 
were owlish with araq on empty stomachs, but still keeping 
up our party manners. 

Now fortified by bread and wine, I asked for a situation 


report on the hare. Sheikh Fouad explained that the 
stationmaster had only a frying pan and a primus stove. 
His tone gently rebuked my curiosity. A gentleman should 
not enquire too closely into the manner in which other 
gentlemen chose to live. 

Nine passed, and ten. At half-past ten Fouad, for the 
first time in all our months of friendship, showed im- 
patience. The stationmaster came tumbling down the 
ladder and announced that certainly we could eat the hare 
if we wished, but though a magnificent hare — a better 
hare, more exquisitely shot, there could not be in all 
Syria! — its extreme age deserved respect and another half- 
hour of cooking. 

At eleven, the stationmaster descended the ladder, 
holding his wash-basin in his arms. Within it, smoking 
among olives and onions, was the hare. It was delicious, 
resembling hare a la Grecque, but not so oily. How he 
managed it I cannot conceive, although he had infinite 
time, the head of his clan to entertain and the native 
Lebanese genius for cooking. Wine and congratulations 
flowed. Sheikh Fouad beamed, as if he had known all 
along that his improbable impulse would be justified. 

There were warm and idle evening flights in the Valley 
of Jezreel, the marshes of Lake Hula and the waters of 
Jericho. Once, staying at a kibutz on the Syrian frontier, I 
had a marvellous early morning after quail which lay so 
close that even I could not miss them, and once I spent 
two days in the tamarisk jungle along the banks of the 
lower Jordan after invisible pig. So back to Devon and 
Dorset, where my skill was just sufficient to keep a meatless 
and growing family supplied with rabbits — by no means a 
dull diet, for they were in such quantity upon the down of 
A Rough Shoot that there was no difficulty in picking the 
right age for frying, for grilling, for roasting or — should a 


parent intercept what was intended for its children — for 
goulash and rabbit loaf. 

A curious disadvantage of the writer's life is that he is 
not compelled to live anywhere in particular. He is com- 
monly envied for this freedom, yet to handle it a man must 
either be unenterprising or have a great love for his 
chosen spot. Those impulses which quickly come to nothing 
because the breadwinner must live near his work may be 
too freely indulged. 

In 1949 Ilona and I held a family council. Our unity in 
Europe makes us approach most subjects from the same 
direction and with the same assumptions — though I, the 
cold Englishman, am noisy and emphatic, and she, the 
excitable Hungarian, is patient and courteous. We decided 
that we lived too far from London, that we needed more 
friends, that the business would prosper if production were 
closer to the market. The first and third reasons were 
nonsense. The second was true enough, since my own 
friends were far too scattered over the world, and a woman 
who marries a foreigner is deprived of her right to contri- 
bute to marriage, except at rare intervals, her own circle 
of intimates and relations. 

We bought a cottage at Strand-on-the-Green and had it 
converted to a house during six months of violently rising 
building costs. At least as many of my fellow citizens have 
been ruined by architects as by the Law or the Stock 
Exchange, for once the work has started there is no point 
at which you can get out, sell and cut your losses. But it is 
not fair to put the blame on the architect. He is employed 
to create a thing of beauty, and he would be an unlikely 
paragon among men if he were also an accountant. At 
least we added to London a house slight and decorative as 


a good essay, and probably — though the builders had to 
scamp the job here and there — more lasting. 

Now loaded with debt in the traditional manner of 
writers and actors, yet innocent of any extravagance, I 
tried to double my sale of short stories and failed. I dis- 
covered that the deliberate invention of one tale after 
another was beyond my powers. There was no obvious 
reason why this should be, for several of my most profitable 
stories have been built of pure imagination; but they are 
freaks, mere isolated efforts of the guardian angel to 
impress me with its industry. What I myself require for a 
short story invariably comes — if it is not a memory of my 
own — from the casual conversation of other people. It may 
be a single phrase, or some account of the oddity of a friend 
or an anecdote. The only essential is that what I hear 
should amuse my sense of irony. It is a good year when 
imagination is set alight more than twice. My made short 
stories, therefore, lacked the true and urgent flame, and as 
little first-class work came out of the spurt of energy as if 
I had waited for my subjects and made no spurt at all. 

Enough stories had now satisfied magazine editors and 
myself for me to insist that both my publishers should 
publish. They could only agree, hoping to make up their 
losses on a later book. They were rewarded for uncom- 
mercial kindness by no loss at all, for they sold their 
editions of Tales of Adventurers down to the last copy. 

This is the book by which I should wish to be judged, 
since it could not possibly have been written by any- 
one else. Original work, upon which he need not even 
put his name or trade-mark, is all that any craftsman can 
claim. How far it is aesthetically pleasing he cannot know, 
for the eye of affection forgives too much. 

Reviewers in both countries were uncommonly kind. 
The only charge they preferred against me, and that 
mildly, was of searching out and elaborating the exotic. It 


is true that I often take my subjects from war or very 
foreign parts or Iron Curtain politics or any situation 
which will allow me to show individual man and woman 
in direct relationship — that is to say, with no protection but 
their own character or integrity — to unfamiliar circum- 
stance. It is all a question of taste, and my defence is that I 
try to write what I like to read. 

The delicate story founded upon one single subtlety of 
human character is rarely for me. The analysis may be 
brilliant and moving, but the fact analysed is a common- 
place which I know already. My temperament demands 
that it should be presented to me as an epigram of four 
lines, not a short story of two hundred. I would agree that 
much of the finest literature merely gives new life to the 
familiar, and that the great play or novel gathers up in its 
sweep the fairly ordinary actions of fairly ordinary people. 
But the short story does not march to that slow and mag- 
nificent time. It is a little dance of bees, pointing direction. 
And if there is no new flower when I arrive there, I may be 
fascinated as a craftsman, but as a reader I am bored. 

It is, of course, the even greater boredom of the com- 
mercial short story which has frightened honest men 
and women into writing with the false simplicity of 
Wordsworth on an off day. Even so, it is not always 
desirable to use a sow's ear to make a silken purse. Between 
the commercial story and the stuff with a full-stop every 
dozen words, there is still infinite room for experiment. 

Because I was for so long an amused, romantic, ironical 
observer of men and manners between Persia and the 
Pacific coast, it was natural that, when I turned from 
living life to imagining it, I should be attracted by the 
same sort of incident in fiction as in reality. What I see as 
a short story worth writing is more likely to happen 
abroad than in England; and when it does happen at 
home, England presents itself to me as a European country 


of great individuality and I am conscious of its frontiers. 
To a lesser extent this is also true of my novels. I cannot 
get away from the interaction between my country and its 

What masters I follow I cannot analyse. I suspect that 
Conrad has some influence, and, the moment I write 
fiction in the first person, Defoe. There must also be 
echoes from the French and the Spaniards, for they are 
the story-tellers whom I most frequently re-read. But my 
most conscious loyalty is to the English language, and one 
of the reasons for my slowness is humility. I hesitate to 
accept my ephemeral thoughts as meriting the precise ex- 
pression which I admire. In spite of mass literature I do not 
believe that English has yet entered so late silver an era 
that it should be necessary to over-simplify it or over- 
elaborate. The style of Hemingway's imitators gets in 
my way as a reader just as annoyingly- as does that of 
Walter Pater, and I resent that anyone should make love 
to my language with perversities until all the delicious 
ingeniousness upon the border of convention has been 
exhausted. To my taste, the finest English prose of our day 
is Osbert Sitwell's, straightforward to read and discreetly 
decorated. I question whether the future historian, 
comparing him to the masters of the two previous centuries, 
will find any marked decadence. 

Tale of Adventurers was followed by the usual year or two 
of searching for a subject which would keep up the stan- 
dard of the short stories and save me from a run before the 
wind with some confounded fellow meditating improbable 
violence. Meanwhile I turned to and enjoyed a few months 
of hack work, honest as that of any chairmaker who will 
ring the door-bell for repairs rather than produce imita- 
tion Louis XV. It was indeed a thriller, but it was true. I 
rewrote for children the Anabasis of Xenophon — and with 
a proper enthusiasm for the original author, since I myself 


had been over the route as far as the Kurdish mountains 
and I had suspected at the age of thirteen that the retreat 
of the ten thousand must be good reading if only one could 
get away from the aorist, the parasangs and the Persians 
with unpronounceable names. 

Rather more gradually than usual my angel presented 
to me a faint outline of Fellow Passenger. I liked it, and took 
over. I was weary of the melancholy confessions of ex- 
communists, and it seemed to me that any of the fiery 
young men whom I had known in the early nineteen- 
thirties — when a lad of generous spirit was no more to 
blame for catching Communism than any other intimate 
disease — would be far more ready to laugh at himself than 
to beat a dreary breast with Germanic polysyllables. And 
Communism itself is so gloriously inefficient — the indes- 
tructible genius of the Russians continues in spite and not 
because of their official creed — that I can never fear 
it, as I did Hitler, to the point of hysteria. Among 
its infinite tragedies there is a gleam of comedy which 
Cervantes would have enjoyed — that of fallible human 
beings striving towards a very ancient, noble and 
impractical ideal by means that are preposterous to any 
but themselves. 

In the writing of the book I was for once very near to 
pleasure, and those who liked it forgave the performance 
of acrobatics upon the very brink of fantasy for the sake of 
the high spirits. It did fairly well, and for the first time my 
English sales far surpassed the American. Across the 
Atlantic they were a little shocked at my cavalier treat- 
ment of the treasured bedtime bogeyman. 

I was eager that the public should take to this book just 
sufficiently to allow me to move over into the territory of 
the English and Spanish picaresque. Fellow Passenger was 
already in the tradition — far nearer, say, to Defoe than to 
Buchan. There was no violence, but enough speed to 


persuade the reader who only took me out of the library 
for excitement that he had had his twopence worth. The 
narrator, too, belonged in the class of rogues rather than 
rogue males, and his character allowed him to tell his 
story with such irreverence as I chose to give him. 

I have always had a strong preference for throwing a 
story into the first person. Through entering the mind of 
too many characters clarity is diffused, and the novelist 
finds himself commenting and explaining when he should 
be recording. The narrator may be the hero, or he may be 
an intelligent observer. On the whole I have a liking for 
the first in a novel, and the second in a short story. But, 
from the moment the word T is on the paper, speech, 
thoughts, what the narrator may see, what he implies and 
what he suppresses are his, as absolutely as in a play, and 
no longer the writer's. Somerset Maugham's insistence 
that the 6 F must be himself forces him into too arch a 
modesty — for he cannot claim for himself all he might 
claim for a Marlowe — with the result that the apologies 
and dinner parties of the first pages go on too long. That, 
I think, is the only reason why this superb master of the 
short story will never be as popular with the critical as he 
is, and rightly, with the fireside reader. 

When I wrote The Third Hour I was joyously ignorant 
that there was any problem at all to be solved in the use of 
the third person. Fortunately the bulk and vitality of a 
first novel swamped any awkwardness which there might 
have been in the transitions between the mind of one 
character and of another. In Arabesque, again in the third 
person, I was too conscious of the difficulty and fussy as a 
vicar's wife experimenting with chrysanthemums upon the 
pulpit steps. I compromised by allowing action to be seen 
only through the eyes and in the presence of hero and 
heroine ; and when I needed one short and satirical chap- 
ter in which neither of them could be present I set it as a 


division in the middle of the book and called it 'Interlude.' 
The use of the first person at once does away with the 
problem of whether the novelist and the readers may know 
more than the characters and, if so, how much. But it 
substitutes two other troubles. The first is the reason why 
the narrator should tell his story at all. I am sure it is 
unnecessary to answer this question, and I tell myself that 
I am not going to bother with it; yet every time I feel a 
lack of urgent reality until I have bothered with it. The 
second trouble is style. The narrator may — indeed must — 
use basic Geoffrey Household, but upon that he may only 
embroider within the limitations of his character and his 
probable powers of self-expression. The limit of realism is 
quickly reached. For example, I could not allow a Civil 
Servant to tell his tale in Civil Service English. But some- 
times in a short story I will let the English read as if it were 
a translation from a foreign language — a most dangerous 
tour de force, for the pitfall of the comic foreigner yawns 
wide open. 

The narrator of Rogue Male was a highly educated man, 
packed with class traditions and suppressions. He was fully 
capable of thinking anything I could think, but the words 
had to be dragged out of him. He would never have 
admitted his sufferings to any but himself, and his sup- 
pressions are also for himself. In fact he was using the 
conventions of the diary. There was no room for any fire- 
works. The ornaments of language had to be confined to 
simple flashes of agony. 

To Eric Amberson in The High Place I could allow far 
more fluency. The consciousness of his personal tragedy 
working upon a man who had all the sensitivity of a 
frustrated craftsman gave him the right to let himself go 
and to construct sentence and paragraph as well as his 
creator could manage. A Rough Shoot, however, was too 
easy to give much aesthetic pleasure, for it was told by a 


plain Dorset businessman. To him language was a 
vehicle for facts; in the realms of the spirit he would 
be as incoherent as the rest of us. I could not write 
the complex, commercial-letter sort of English which 
he would in life have written — once in the naughti- 
ness of an after-dinner mood I tried it, and ten pages 
would have been enough for any reader — but the nearer 
I held him to basic, the more real he would be and the 
faster the story would go. 

The hero of Fellow Passenger was a man after my own 
heart. Half English, half Ecuadorian, he could look at our 
manners from the outside and enjoy them. There was no 
limit except that set by propriety — mine, not his — on what 
he might think and what he might do ; and when he loved 
the beauty of woman or landscape or wine, his dancing 
style could fairly be allowed to sparkle with appreciation. 

Fellow Passenger did what I asked of it, setting me free to 
move towards the pure picaresque with reasonable cer- 
tainty that I would not also be moving to bankruptcy. On 
the plane of daily life I was also more at ease, for we had 
got rid of that dainty and ruinous mistress, the Strand-on- 
the-Green house, without a loss. All was set fair for 
leisurely story-telling. 

But the angel was in her most feminine avatar. She 
would have nothing to do with this simple, virile and 
practical programme; nor would industrious persuasion 
move her, for the picaresque is not so simple as it appears. 
An original character will, it is true, stroll through the 
imagination with all necessary impudence; and, once he is 
established, his adventures, his loves and the shape of the 
society upon which or in spite of which he lives may be 
invented with generous ease. The element of suspense 
which must carry the reader through to the end is far more 
troublesome to discover and develop. It may be danger, 
but then the story runs too close to the thriller. It may be, 


as in Tom Jones, the course of true love. But my characters 
are never creatures of social convention; I could not 
outrage probability by keeping them out of bed until the 
end of the book. 

I tried a political motive to give me suspense and set my 
scene in the Balkans of the nineteen-thirties — only to find 
that I had become enmeshed in intrigue. The picaresque 
was overwhelmed by chancellors, archbishops and the 
leaders of the proletariat. In fact I had created a credible 
state, but it had cost a quarter of the book to do so. 

With Ruritania safely in the waste-paper basket, I began 
to suspect that I might again be doomed to the three-year 
period between the beginning of one book and the next. I 
would no more accept such a gap in major production than 
any businessman, and I stuck as firmly to my chair. Oil 
wells in Roumania provided some excellent chapters, but 
the book could not decide what it was about. Oil wells in 
Arabia would have been a more topical choice, if I did not 
lack the reporter's trick of making superficial facts appear 

So it went on; and the angel would not be compelled 
unless I count as hers — for I did not know she had any 
interest in mere facts — the capricious and impatient sug- 
gestion that I should write my life while waiting for 
another less untidy. I doubted if it could be of interest, and 
still doubt — for there is no significance in what I have done, 
none of the famous among those whom I have met and 
little to commend my thoughts but their expression. Yet 
the pattern of my life, without any forced selection of 
incidents, fitted the convention of the picaresque and, 
though the last page could scarcely present my half- 
successful self as living happily ever afterwards, I had at 
least advanced from the professionless young rogue among 
the pimps of Bucharest. 

What I have plainly in common with the hero whom I 


would have preferred to create is that I can look back on 
the past with geniality. It is not wholly due to reticence 
that I have left out the humiliations and the darknesses of 
the soul. Memory is an unconscious Christian, forgetting 
the few trespasses committed by others and the many 
committed by oneself. 

If I have numbered like a witless sundial only the 
serenest or half-clouded hours, it is perhaps because I was 
always aware of enjoyment when I had it. Guilty I have 
been over and over again of seizing it, but never have the 
laws of life exacted the full price. I have been given great 
liberty to admire. I will not play the critic and find mean- 
ing in an individual when only a general richness of literary 
texture was intended; yet should construction demand an 
occasional minor character to taste and to give praise, I 
too may fulfil a purpose of That which wrote me. 


3 1262 05267 2143